New research from the national Australian Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study has revealed that many Australian children between the ages of one and two are currently overconsuming sodium as part of their daily diets.
This is a major area of concern as experts believe this is a precursor for chronic diseases such as high blood pressure in their later years.
More disturbingly, although high sodium consumption is commonly linked with foods known to be high in salt content such as unhealthy savoury snacks, simply removing these products from children’s diets appears unlikely to make the significant difference required.
“[We found that] excessive sodium intake is definitely an issue of concern in Australia, with one in three toddlers exceeding the upper limit of the recommended 1,000 mg/day value – this is the equivalent of 2.5mg of salt,” said study lead author Dr Merryn Netting, who hails from the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute.
“This is worrying as higher sodium intakes are correlated with blood pressure in children, and blood pressure tracks with age.
“We also saw that discretionary foods [do not appear to be the main issue here as these only] account for only 27% of sodium intake, whereas staple foods such as cereals and dairy account for 40%.”
According to the study, which surveyed over 500 parents and caregivers of toddlers across Australia about their toddlers’ dietary practices, the top five of sodium in these toddlers’ foods were: breakfast cereals, infant formula/toddler milks, bread, meat, and eggs.
“In addition to potentially increasing their preference for salty foods later in life, high salt intake is also a known risk factor for hypertension and cardiovascular disease in later life,” the study authors added.
“[But given] discretionary foods only account for 27% of this sodium intake, although reducing discretionary food consumption will help reduce sodium intake, [it is clear that] other strategies are also needed.”
The highlighted suggestion has been for more reformulation to be implemented in the food industry, with a focus on products favoured by toddlers.
“Foods such as bread and cheese [which are popular with children] may need to be reformulated to reduce their salt content,” they added.
“The Australian government is already working with industry to reformulate foods under its Healthy Food Partnership, to enable manufacturers to provide healthier choices overall.
“This reformulation includes sodium reduction targets for specific food categories – [but it should be noted that] high sodium is really a problem across the whole Australian population.”
For several years now, Australian dietary guidelines have recommended that children with food allergy risks be exposed to allergenic foods before the age of one to reduce their risk of developing the allergies.
This advice has been in place since 2016, and according to this latest study many participating parents have been adhering to this, with 97% having introduced eggs and 94% introduced peanuts to their children before the age of one year old.
“This is good news, but in a separate South Australian study we found that many caregivers had introduced these potential allergens to their children by the one-year mark, but many were not doing so regularly,” said the authors.
“The formal advice is for caregivers to give their children these potential food allergens regularly twice a week once introduced, in order to prevent the food allergies from developing.”
Study: The Australian Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study (OzFITS) 2021: Highlights and Future Directions
Authors: Netting, M.J. et. al.