U.S. adults are not the only ones consuming too much salt. Children in a nationally representative sample consumed an average of 3,387 mg of sodium per day — more than double the upper limit of 1,500 mg recommended by the American Heart Association, study findings reveal.

Similar to observations in adults, this saltier diet appears to raise kids’ risk for hypertension, with the highest risk noted in children who are overweight or obese, Quanhe Yang, PhD, of the CDC’s heart disease and stroke prevention division, and colleagues reported in Pediatrics.

Each 1,000 mg increase in daily sodium intake was associated with about 1 mm Hg higher systolic BP overall and about 1.5 mm Hg higher systolic BP in overweight or obese children, the researchers found. No correlations were observed between sodium intake and diastolic BP.

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Yang and colleagues analyzed diet and BP data from 6,235 participants aged 8 to 18 years in National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from 2003 through 2008. A total of 15% had BP in the 90th percentile or above for age, gender and height, and 37% were overweight or obese.

Sodium intake ranged from 1,334 to as much as 8,177 mg per day, with average consumption generally higher among boys than girls.

Overall, the adjusted standard deviation in systolic BP rose a significant 0.097 per 1,000 mg of sodium consumed, or the equivalent of about 1.0 mm Hg.

However, weight had a substantial impact on BP outcomes, with systolic BP increasing an average of 0.2 mm Hg per 1,000 mg of sodium among normal-weight kids compared with 1.5 mm Hg for the same intake among overweight or obese children, the researchers found.

This translates to a 74% increased risk for hypertension or prehypertension with each additional 1,000 mg of sodium consumed per day for overweight or obese kids versus a 6% increase risk among normal-weight kids.

Similar associations between were observed between salt intake and mean BP, with a greater impact observed among overweight and obese children.

Among normal-weight children, mean BP was 104.8 mm Hg for those in the lowest sodium consumption quartile versus 106.6 mm Hg in the highest intake group, for a mean difference of 1.7 mm Hg (P=0.186).

In the overweight and obese group, mean BP was 109.0 mm Hg among those in the lowest quartile of sodium consumption versus 112.8 mm Hg among those in the highest quartile, for a mean difference of 3.8 mm Hg (P=0.036).

“Evidence-based interventions that help participants reduce their sodium intake, increase their physical activity, and attain or maintain a healthy weight may help reduce the greater than expected prevalence of high BP and other cardiovascular disease risk factors among children and adolescents,” the researchers wrote.

They suggested several approaches for reducing sodium intake and weight management, including:

  • Eating smaller portion sizes
  • Not skipping meals
  • Minimizing processed food consumption
  • Paying attention to energy and sodium data on food labels
  • Not adding salt to foods

Study limitations included reliance on self-reported dietary recall to measure calorie and sodium intake instead of more reliable 24-hour urine collection methods, the researchers noted.


  1. Yang Q et al. Pediatrics. 2012; doi:10.1542/peds.2011-3870.