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Action on Salt

Children's Food Survey

28th January 2008

  • Lack of labelling confusing to parents
  • Next generation risking high blood pressure

For Media Coverage: Kids's food survey Media Coverage


New research[1]  published today (28th January 2008) by Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) shows that many foods eaten by UK children still contain large amounts of salt, in some cases more than half the daily maximum limit for a 6 year old in a single serving.  Research carried out with Netmums, a leading parenting website, also shows that many parents are confused about which foods contain salt.

To mark Salt Awareness Week 2008, CASH calls on parents to check labels carefully and stop buying very salty foods for their children.  The charity also asks the manufacturers, yet again, to lower the amount of salt they put into children’s foods, and provide clear salt labelling to help parents make informed choices.

According to the UK Government’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition, four to six year-olds should eat no more than 3g of salt a day, half the adult limit.  One to three year-olds should have no more than 2g a day.  And yet the CASH research found the following savoury foods, eaten regularly by children, still on sale in January 2008 with over 1g of salt per serving, which is a third of a six year-old’s daily maximum limit and half the daily salt limit for a three year-old: click here to view the savoury foods [DOC 11KB]

The research also revealed a number of sweet foods that parents may not realise contain any salt at all: click here to view the sweet foods [DOC 11KB]

“Keeping children’s salt consumption below the recommended maximum limits is vital,” says Professor Graham MacGregor, Chairman of CASH and Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at St George’s Hospital in London.  “Research published just last year[2] showed that children who eat higher salt diets have higher blood pressure than children who eat less salt.  It is also well established that blood pressure tracks into adulthood[3]. That is, the higher the blood pressure in childhood, the higher the blood pressure in adulthood.   Anything that lowers blood pressure in childhood is likely to translate into lower levels of blood pressure in adult life, with reduced risk of developing heart disease and stroke.

“And it’s not just heart attacks and strokes that are caused by a high-salt diet.  Too much salt is also linked with stomach cancer and osteoporosis and can aggravate the symptoms of asthma [4].

“With everything we know about the dangers of eating too much salt, parents need as much information as possible about how much salt is contained in the foods they give to their children, and food manufacturers need to do as much as they can to reduce the amount of salt they add to foods that are eaten by children,” continues Professor MacGregor.  ”We know that a lot of work has been done by some companies to reduce salt in products eaten by children.  We want to see all manufacturers doing everything they can to reduce the salt they put in children’s food.  If they really cannot reduce the salt content in food eaten by children to reasonable levels, perhaps they should consider ceasing production?”

Carrie Bolt, CASH Researcher comments: “We surveyed single food items but when we look at children’s diets and family meal choices as a whole there is even more cause for concern. For example, we found that a meal containing beans and a burger could contain as much as 4.2g salt, far more salt in a single meal than children up to the age of 6 years should be eating in a whole day.”

“Many parents know that their children should eat less salt than adults,” says Jo Butten, Nutritionist for Consensus Action on Salt and Health, “and we know that most parents do not add salt when they are cooking for their children.  But they are still confused by labelling that does not clearly state the salt content for a realistic portion and they do not expect sweet foods such as cakes, muffins, puddings and breakfast cereals to contain high levels of salt.[5]”

In November 2007, CASH worked with the parenting website to find out how much parents know about the complicated area of salt and children’s health [5].  In the survey, only 3% of the parents taking part knew that a blueberry muffin has more salt than two standard bags of crisps (1.1g salt versus 0.5g in each bag of crisps)[6].  

Only 10% knew that a serving of Rice Krispie-style breakfast cereal with milk contains more salt than a packet of ready salted crisps (0.65g versus 0.5g).  

“We want to see clear front of pack labelling, including information on how much of a child’s daily limit the food supplies, on all foods eaten by children.  Many of the parents who took part in the Netmums survey were also confused about the relationship between salt and sodium,” continues Jo Butten, “with less than half those surveyed (48.2%) knowing that 1g of sodium is equal to 2.5g of salt.  47.2% thought that sodium is the same as salt, so labels giving only sodium levels will lull these parents into a false sense of security as they try to find lower salt foods for their children.  Parents deserve more support from manufacturers.”

Commenting on the research, Betty McBride, Director of Policy and Communications for the British Heart Foundation, said: “This must be a red light moment for food manufacturers, let’s get colour coded labels on food packs now.

“We know that high salt intake is linked to raised blood pressure and is a major risk factor for heart disease - the UK’s biggest killer.

“This research shows alarming levels of salt hidden in some foods. Shoppers’ problems are compounded by confusing food labelling that can make it difficult to quickly choose lower salt options for their families at the supermarket.  

“We know that traffic light labelling is key to making food choices easier for shoppers. It would allow busy parents to tell at a glance whether food they select is low, medium or high in salt and help them make healthier food choices.”  


1 Full details of the research should be attached with this release.  If you have not received them, please contact us on the numbers above.

Survey methodology
CASH surveyed eight outlets in January 2008 – ASDA, The Co-operative Group, Marks and Spencer, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Somerfield, Tesco and Waitrose to look for examples of foods eaten by children with relatively high levels of salt.  The foods surveyed were own-brand and branded products. N.B. this was not intended to be an overview of all products eaten by children.  CASH is happy to acknowledge that there are foods eaten by children which do not have high levels of salt.  The purpose of this research was to find examples of higher salt foods in order to explain to parents how easy it can be for their children to eat too much salt.

2 He FJ, Marrero NM, and MacGregor GA.  Salt and blood pressure in children and adolescents. Journal of Human Hypertension 2008 22: 4–11.

3 Rosner B et al.  Age-specific correlation analysis of longitudinal blood pressure data. Am J Epidemiol. 1977; 106: 306-313
Nelson et al.  Longitudinal prediction of adult blood pressure from juvenile blood pressure levels. Am J Epidemiol. 1992; 136: 633-645

Joossens J V, Hill M J, Elliott P, Stamler R, Lesaffre E, Dyer A, Nichols R, Kesteloot H. Dietary salt, nitrate and stomach cancer mortality in 24 countries. European Cancer Prevention (ECP) and the INTERSALT Cooperative Research Group. Int J Epidemiol. 1996; 25: 494-504.
Devine A, Criddle R A, Dick I M, Kerr D A, Prince R L. A longitudinal study of the effect of sodium and calcium intakes on regional bone density in postmenopausal women. Am J Clin Nutr. 1995; 62: 740-5.
Mickleborough, T.D., & Fogarty, A. (2006). Dietary sodium intake and asthma: an epidemiological and clinical review, International Journal of Clinical Practice, 60, 12, 1616-1624.

2,375 parents took part in an online survey on the website in November 2007.  As well as the findings noted above, the survey found that almost all those who took part (99.5%) know that too much salt in the diet is linked with raised blood pressure.  But only about a quarter (27.3%) are aware that it is also linked with stomach cancer, and fewer than one in five know that too much salt can lead to osteoporosis (16.1%) or that too much salt in their child’s diet can aggravate the symptoms of asthma (19.4%).  This reflects the focus of current public health campaigns and indicates that there should be more communication about the other negative health effects of eating too much salt.

We were pleased to find that 90.5% of the parents surveyed do not use salt when they are cooking for their children and 95.6% do not allow their children to add salt to their food at the table.  This shows that the vast majority of parents are taking steps to limit their children’s salt intake.  The onus is now on the food industry to support parents by providing clear labelling and reducing the amount of salt they add to our foods.

6 Costa Coffee Blueberry muffin - 1.108g salt per muffin. Note: for the Netmums survey example products were taken from both retailers and the food service sector in order to identify the range of salt that children could be consuming and whether parents were aware of this.

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