Family Matters

Is Too Much Salt a Trigger for Childhood Obesity?

Cravings for unhealthy foods often go hand in hand, which isn't good news for young waistlines.

  • Share
  • Read Later
Photodisc / Plush Studios / Getty Images

Cravings for unhealthy foods often go hand in hand, which isn’t good news for young waistlines.

Research published in the journal Pediatrics shows that the more salt children consumed, the more they slurped up sugar-sweetened drinks. And those who drank more than a serving a day were 26% more likely to be overweight or obese, suggesting that salt may be part of the chain of events contributing to the childhood-obesity epidemic.

(MORE: Goodbye, Big Soda: New York Becomes First City to Ban Large-Sized Soft Drinks)

“There’s a lot of experimental evidence in animals and in adults that shows that the more salt you consume, the more you actually get thirsty and consume fluid,” says Carley Grimes, the study’s lead author, a dietitian and doctoral student at Deakin University in Australia. “The amount of salt in your blood rises and to control it, your body gets thirsty.” The problem is, to quench that thirst, children are more likely to reach for sugared sodas than for water.

Grimes and her colleagues tracked 4,283 Australian kids ages 2 to 16 to examine the relationship between salt intake and sugary drinks. On average, the kids were eating about 6 g of salt per day (one teaspoon equals 5 g), when they should have been consuming up to half as much, between 3 g and 5 g, depending on their age.

Around 62% of the children in the study reported that they regularly drank sugar-sweetened drinks — soda, flavored mineral waters, sports and energy drinks and fruit drinks. The study did not include 100% fruit juice.

(MORE: Cutting Out Soda Curbs Children’s Weight Gain, Studies Show)

Putting the two together, the researchers calculated that for every gram of salt those children ate, they also drank 17 g of sugary drinks. The kids who did not commonly drink sugar-sweetened beverages wound up eating more than half a gram of salt less than the group of kids who drank sugary drinks. “That’s significant,” says Grimes. “It’s a bag of chips a day.”

The findings don’t surprise Karen Congro, a nutritionist and director of the Wellness for Life program at the Brooklyn Hospital Center. To avoid overdoing the sodium, she suggests tasting food before salting it and cooking at home where the amount of salt can be controlled. “We can probably go further and say that kids who eat salty foods and drink sweetened beverages are also more likely to eat fewer vegetables, less calcium-rich foods, such as milk and yogurt, and more fast food,” she said in a statement.

(MORE: Banning Sugared Drinks in Schools Doesn’t Lower Student Consumption)

In fact, the 23% of children in the study who consumed more than one serving of sugary drinks per day were 26% more likely to tip the scales at an unhealthy weight.

Even aside from the association with obesity — which can lead to heart disease and diabetes — salt can raise blood pressure, and that can be an independent trigger for heart problems. Says Grimes: “This adds more weight to the literature out there about why we should reduce salt.” In more than one way.

15 comments
TimeKeepsTicking
TimeKeepsTicking

I'll put it to you in most simplest terms: If you consume more salt even when you're young your going to have health problrms later in your life, it's an almost certainty.. 

mloxton
mloxton

@ClevelandClinic of course it does, but US food = too salty, too sugary, too fatty, too much, & too often. Even plates & forks too big

AdamDBull
AdamDBull

@ClevelandClinic I lost 20 pounds by removing excess salt from my diet..I think you are on to something

jlevinsonrd
jlevinsonrd

As a registered dietitian, I educate individuals as well as food and beverage companies like Coca-Cola on making healthy dietary choices and understanding diet-related research. As such, I was curious to take a closer look at the results of this study. It was interesting to see that when researchers took exercise into account, there was no link between sugary drinks and obesity. This study should be used as a reminder that parents and other caregivers need to encourage kids to be active each day and eat a healthy, balanced diet (which can include some salty and sweet treats). We should all take this study with a grain of salt - pun intended.

JonNoteboom
JonNoteboom

What ever happened to it just being piss poor, lazy parents who would rather try to be their precious little snowflakes best-friend instead of molding them into reasonable, responsible, members of society. No your right blame the salt not the ones who allow their children to abuse it.

amadabasura
amadabasura

no! it's because they eat 3x more calories. before refrigeration food was preserved in salt and there were no land whales at that time. get real. quit subsidising crap for calories-corn, soybeans, wheat.

ShamsAci
ShamsAci

ESSENTIAL HEALTH AWARENESS:

// Cravings for unhealthy foods often go hand in hand, which isn’t good news for young waistlines.

Research published in the journal Pediatrics shows that the more salt children consumed, the more they slurped up sugar-sweetened drinks. And those who drank more than a serving a day were 26% more likely to be overweight or obese, suggesting that salt may be part of the chain of events contributing to the childhood-obesity epidemic...........//

marosettivillamor
marosettivillamor

Looks like I'm part of the 74 percent then. I'm a salt person and have been forever underweight. I need meat in my bones people fast! Tell me how!

kimsbenn
kimsbenn

@TIME @TIMEHealthland how about too high caloric intact for physical exercise. Novel idea?

Slow_Po
Slow_Po

@TIME @TIMEHealthland I'm going out on a limb and guessing it's probably crappy food & little exercise, but I'm not a scientist or anything.

DrSchlemmer
DrSchlemmer

@TIME @TIMEHealthland. salt & sugar are opposites on the food spectrum resulting in salt cravings after sugar and vice versa which = carbs

OldPopyeSalt
OldPopyeSalt

@time @timehealthland . Yes, and Saturated Fat ...!!

DianeKress
DianeKress

@TIME @TIMEHealthland . It's not the salt the kids crave...it's carbohydrate grams that sabotage blood sugar and cause overeating/obesity.