MONDAY, Feb. 3, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- American teens are
taking in as much dietary salt as adults, far exceeding guidelines
on healthy limits for daily consumption, new research warns.
The investigation tracked the week-long eating habits of more
than 760 black and white high school kids. It found that, on
average, teens now ingest a whopping 3,280 milligrams (mg) of
sodium (salt) every day.
That amounts to more than double the uppermost recommended level
of 1,500 mg of sodium per day set forth by the American Heart
And the upshot, researchers say, is a higher risk for adolescent
obesity, given the further finding of an apparent direct link
between high levels of salt intake and an increased risk for
packing on the pounds.
"Even after accounting for many other risk factors that could contribute to weight, we still found that higher dietary sodium among adolescents was independently associated with a higher risk for obesity," said study lead author Dr. Haidong Zhu.
Zhu, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the Institute of
Public and Preventive Health at Georgia Regents University, and her
colleagues reported their findings online Feb. 3 in the journal
To examine salt intake among American teens, the researchers
focused on healthy teens between the ages of 14 and 18, all of whom
were attending local public high schools in the Augusta area.
The teens were nearly evenly split across race (black and white)
Up to seven times over the course of a single week, each student
was repeatedly asked to recount what they ate the previous day,
with particular attention paid to the amount of sugar-sweetened
sodas drank and calories consumed.
Students also had their height and weight measured to calculate
their body-mass index (BMI), and had X-rays and MRIs to assess
body-fat percentages and fatty-tissue dispersal. Their waist
circumference was also measured, and fasting blood samples were
taken to look for signs of obesity-related inflammation.
The result: 97 percent of the teens were found to be consuming
levels of salt exceeding the AHA's daily recommendations, with
white teens taking in slightly more per day than black teens (about
3,350 mg versus 3,200 mg, on average).
What's more, the team found a direct association between
ingesting high levels of salt and the risk for being overweight or
obese, having a larger waist and having higher body fat and fat
mass. Concentration levels of leptin, a key hormone involved in the
regulation of hunger and metabolism, were also found to rise as
salt intake increased.
The finding of a direct -- as opposed to indirect -- link
between salt intake and obesity risk is somewhat of a twist, the
Many previous studies have highlighted an indirect association
between salt intake and obesity. Such research reflected the fact
that salt typically spurs a desire to drink more sugary soda and
eat more calorie-laden food.
The new study, however, found that teens who took in high
amounts of salt every day were more likely to be obese regardless
of their particular drinking and eating habits.
Why this is the case remains unclear, the investigators said.
And Zhu stressed that more research is needed.
"We didn't look at the mechanism behind this," she said. "Animal research does suggest that salt does directly increase obesity risk. But for now we cannot prove any causality."
Lona Sandon, a registered dietitian and assistant professor of
clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern, in
Dallas, made a similar point.
"With this type of study," she said, "it is always important to point out that it is a correlation relationship, not showing a cause and effect."
But Sandon nonetheless said the findings were "interesting" and
suggested they be viewed as a kind of wake-up call.
"Parents should be concerned about the quality of the diet their children are eating," she said. "A poor-quality diet during childhood and adolescence leads to poor-quality health in adulthood."
Her advice? "The best thing parents can do is to start by
setting a good example by making healthier low-sodium food choices
themselves," she said. "Then make an effort to provide low-sodium
foods, meaning mostly fresh and minimally processed foods available
for the whole family at home. Limit the amount of food prepared
away from home and get back in the kitchen."
To learn more about salt in your diet, visit the
American Heart Association.
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