Can kids develop high blood pressure from eating too much salt?

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Answered by: Beth, An Expert in the Nutrition - General Category
Teens and children can develop high blood pressure from a eating too much salt, according to a Center for Disease Control study. A study of 6,235 kids and teens showed a link between dietary salt and hypertension, especially in overweight or clinically obese kids.

Nutritionists recommend daily sodium intake of 2,300 mg in people over age 2 and 1,500 for people over 51. Study subjects reported daily food and sodium intake. Height, weight and blood pressure were measured. The diet of the kids or teens in the study averaged 3,400 mg per day or under 2 teaspoons. Subjects were consuming as much sodium as adults in similar studies.

What can parents do to ensure kids eat less salt and have a lower risk of developing high blood pressure? Focus on fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables or low sodium canned versions. Use fresh meat and poultry. Rinse canned foods such as tuna or beans before using or purchase lower sodium versions. Cook with herbs and spices instead of salt. Limit processed food, prepared foods and fast food. Avoid salting water when preparing rice or pasta.

According to the CDC, bread and rolls contribute more sodium to the diet than salted chips or snack foods. Increased physical activity may also lower the risk for high blood pressure in children, teens and adults. A healthy body weight and BMI will lower risk for hypertension and medical complications resulting from high blood pressure.

What is high blood pressure? Blood pressure is the force by which blood flows through the arteries. Blood pressure is measured in two numbers. Systolic pressure, the higher number of the two, represents the pressure of the blood in the artery walls when the heart beats. Diastolic blood pressure, the lower of the numbers, is the pressure of the blood when the heart rests. Age, gender, height and weight all factors in assessing blood pressure. Blood pressure in the 90-95 percentile range is considered to be elevated.

These higher rates can cause extra strain on the heart and and arteries which can lead to a number of medical complications including heart attacks, strokes, aneurysms and renal failure. The increased blood flow in arteries can lead to tiny tears. Scar tissue which develops to repair these tears can trap plaque and white blood cells which can lead to coronary or heart complications. Children and teens with high blood pressure are at approxiately a three-fold increased risk for continued high blood pressure and medical complications as adults.

Kids who are overweight or clinically obese are also at increased risk for developing Diabetes 2. For overweight or obese children and teens, each 1,000 mg of sodium consumed above the recommended amount almost doubles the risk for high blood pressure. Physicians and nutritionists recommend reducing the risk for high blood pressure by encouraging physical activity, substituting fresh food prepared at home for packaged, processed and fast foods, and maintaining a healthy body weight or BMI.

Today's children and teens with elevated blood pressure are at risk for high blood pressure as adults. According to the CDC, 67 million adults in the US have been diagnosed with high blood pressure and only half have the high blood pressure under control.

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