Children who eat salty foods and snacks are more likely to seek out sugary drinks to wash them down, researchers from Deakin University, Burwood, Australia, reported in the journal Pediatrics.

The authors added that this combination – salty foods with sugary drinks – can potentially raise the risk of obesity. Perhaps by curbing children’s consumption of salt, their craving for sugar-sweetened beverages may drop, resulting in smaller waistlines.

The study found that the more children consumed salt, the more fluids they drank overall. The same was found among kids who drank sweetened drinks.

In September 2012, scientists from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) wrote that American children eat as much salt as adults do. They added that high sodium consumption is associated with a higher risk of hypertension in children and adolescents.

Caryl A. Nowson, PhD, and team set out to determine whether there might be an association between dietary salt consumption, fluid intake, and the amount of sugar-sweetened beverage drunk with bodyweight. They gathered and analyzed data form a nationally representative sample of 4,283 Australian kids aged from 2 to 16 years.

All their data came from the 2007 Australian National Children’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey. Their consumption of salt, liquids and sugar-sweetened drinks was calculated by looking at two 24-hour dietary recalls. They also looked at information on the children’s height and weight and worked out their Body Mass Indexes (BMIs).

The researchers found that, of the 4,283 children:

  • 62% said they consumed sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs)
  • Those of lower socioeconomic status consumed greater quantities of SSBs
  • Older children drank more SSBs
  • The more dietary salt a child had, the higher their fluid intake
  • The more salt a child consumed, the greater their consumption of SSBs
  • Children who consumed more than one SSB per day were 26% more likely to be overweight or obese. However, when they separated these children into two groups – those who regularly exercised and those who did not, the obesity/overweight link to more than one SSB per day was only present in the sedentary kids.
  • Overall, average sodium consumption was 2,500 mg per day, and just over 5% were obese. According to the revised American Heart Association presidential advisory, Americans should limit their sodium intake to no more than 1,500 mg per day.
  • Only 3% of the children who did not regularly consume sugary drinks were obese/overweight.

The authors concluded in an Abstract in the same journal:

“Dietary salt intake predicted total fluid consumption and SSB consumption within consumers of SSBs. Furthermore, SSB consumption was associated with obesity risk. In addition to the known benefits of lowering blood pressure, salt reduction strategies may be useful in childhood obesity prevention efforts.”

Most children in industrialized countries get their salt from processed foods, bread, and eating out, rather than from their kitchen salt shakers. The scientists believe that any reduction in dietary salt from foods eaten, and replaced with healthier foods, would be good for children’s health.

Salt, sugar and pepper shakers
Most kids get their salt from the foods they eat, rather than the salt shaker

Table salt is a chemical compound called sodium chloride (NaCL – Na stands for sodium while CL stands for chlorine). Salt as we know it contains 40% sodium and 60% chlorine.

Health care professionals focus on the sodium component of salt, because that is the part that affects our health. 40% of table salt consists of sodium.

Studies over the last few years have associated high salt intake with several diseases and conditions. Below are a few of them:

Written by Christian Nordqvist