Young Children May Acquire A Taste For Salt From Common Foods In Infancy

Joyce Maalouf MS MPH Nutrition Epidemiologist CDC, Interview with:
Joyce Maalouf MS MPH
Nutrition Epidemiologist
CDC, Atlanta

Medical Research: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Although significant research shows U.S. children are eating too much sodium, data on the top dietary sources contributing to that intake is limited – particularly among babies and toddlers. This study identifies the primary sources of dietary sodium consumed by children from birth to 24-months-old, as well as differences in intake and food source broken down by demographic characteristics including age, gender and race/ethnicity.

Overall, our research revealed that after the age of six months, more than 70 percent of sodium intake comes from foods other than breast milk and infant formula. Commercial baby foods, soups and pasta mixed dishes are top sodium contributors for U.S. infants 6 to 11.9 months, while soups, cheese, pasta mixed dishes and frankfurters and sausages are key contributors among toddlers aged 12 up to 24 months. Top sodium sources varied by race/ethnicity within age groups, suggesting that for sodium reduction to be effective, it needs to occur across a wide variety of foods.

In addition, we found that non-Hispanic black toddlers ate more sodium than non-Hispanic white and Mexican-American children. Average sodium intake increased almost 9-fold from children under six months to those between one and two-years-old, while average energy intake only doubled. This suggests that, during the first two years of life, U.S. children increasingly consume sodium-rich foods.

To determine these findings, we examined eight years of data encompassing more than 2,900 participants between birth and two-years-old. The information was pulled from the nationwide NHANES What We Eat in America survey between 2003 and 2010.

Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Response: Common types of food fed to infants and toddlers can contribute to excess sodium intake. Research shows the taste for salt is established through diet at a young age. Unfortunately, nearly 80 percent of children aged one to three exceed the upper intake level (1,500 mg per day) recommended by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) for this age group. Sodium intake is related to high blood pressure – and while hypertension is more common in adults, research shows it also occurs in children. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

Because of the high dietary sodium intake of young children, identifying the top contributors could provide targets for changes in the marketplace and food environment and support the development of specific dietary guidelines for U.S. infants and toddlers. This research is also beneficial because it can help clinicians, parents and public health practitioners focus on sodium reduction efforts aimed at youth. For example, pediatricians can provide guidance on breastfeeding, as well as appropriate foods to give young children for a healthy diet, such as fruits and vegetables without added salt and sugars. Parents can also compare nutrition facts labels at grocery stores to find lower-sodium options.

Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: Further research could identify optimal strategies for reducing sodium intake among babies and toddlers in general, as well as among children of different races and ethnicities. In addition, more data is needed on this age group to support the inclusion of 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommendations for infants and toddlers from birth to 24 months of age. Finally, future research should focus on foods from restaurants and childcare settings to ensure that children have access, beyond the confines of their own house, to healthy meals and snacks that are low in sodium.


Joyce Maalouf, Mary E Cogswell, Keming Yuan, Carrie Martin, Janelle P Gunn, Pamela Pehrsson, Robert Merritt, and Barbara Bowman

Top sources of dietary sodium from birth to age 24 mo, United States, 2003–2010 Am J Clin Nutr ajcn099770; First published online March 11, 2015. doi:10.3945/ajcn.114.099770

[wysija_form id=”2″] Interview with: Joyce Maalouf MS MPH (2015). Young Children May Acquire A Taste For Salt From Common Foods In Infancy 

Last Updated on March 20, 2015 by Marie Benz MD FAAD