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Foods aimed at toddlers loaded with salt, study finds

March 21, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
Most foods 3-year-old Lena Zimskind likes can't be found in a package.

"We try not to give them that, so, there's really not any fast food or anything like that," said her mother, Limor Zimskind.

But what Lena eats may be an exception to the rule. Researchers reviewed more than 1100 products specifically marketed to babies and toddlers.

Their report, presented to the American Heart Association, reveals more than 75 percent of those meals and snacks contained high sodium content.

"They are Lunchables, there are children's little puffs, there are mini-meals almost like you would find for adults," said dietitian Nicole Meadow with Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

Meadow says many of the toddler-targeted food products can contain up 800 milligrams of sodium.

"A lot of parents are working, they're working more than one job, and we're looking for something fast and easy and we're reaching more towards processed foods these days," she said.

The adequate daily intake of a child 1 to 3 years old is 1000 milligrams of salt a day. So what does the average American child eat in salt per day? Nutritionists say 3400 milligrams of salt.

"Salt is an acquired taste, it's not something we are born to like, so we're teaching children from a young age to like sodium," said Meadows.

The findings are alarming since many studies show high salt intake in childhood increases the risk for high blood pressure as an adult. But dietitians say you can retrain a child's palate by slowly trading out convenience foods for fresh fruits and vegetables.

"Little small changes can make a big difference," said Meadows.

Lena's mom works full time but she cooks on the weekends and plans out her family's meals. She says doing this way is even more convenient than convenience foods.

"I think it's almost just as easy to grab the healthy foods if you think of it in advance," Limor Zimskind said.

The other take-away message, dietitians add, is to start reading labels. Study authors say while many toddler products are loaded with salt, the good news is commercial foods for babies, 4 to 12 months, are relatively low in sodium.


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