When it comes to helping consumers make healthy food choices, highlighting the salt content of foods Kiwi kids love is a good place to start.
Consumer recently surveyed the salt content of food kids love and found some serious offenders. “The worst was a battered hot dog loaded with 1400mg of sodium – that’s the daily maximum limit for a five-to-six-year-old, before you add the hot chips,” Consumer NZ CEO Sue Chetwin said.
Salt is sodium chloride – and it’s the sodium that can be bad for your health. The global group World Action on Salt & Health (WASH) says a high salt intake in children can influence blood pressure and may predispose a child to the development of major health problems such as high blood pressure, osteoporosis, respiratory illnesses, stomach cancer and obesity. Limiting salty foods in children’s diets is an important way of stopping them from developing a taste for it.
The Ministry of Health’s recommended maximum daily limit for sodium is 2000mg per day for 11- to 14-year-olds. Younger children need even less. But our Kiwi kids are eating a lot more than this. The 2009 New Zealand Total Diet Survey found that girls aged 11 to 14 years were eating more than 2300mg a day and 11- to 14-year-old boys were eating around 2800mg a day – that’s more than the adult recommended maximum limit of 2300mg.
Ms Chetwin said around 75 percent of our sodium intake comes from processed foods. Bread, processed meats, processed grain products (such as crackers and cereals) and takeaways are the biggest contributors to Kiwi kids’ sodium intake.
“Because kids eat lots of bread, it’s the biggest source of sodium in their diets.”
Consumer’s top tips to reduce your child’s sodium intake
- Prepare fresh foods, rather than going for the easier option of processed foods.
- Check the nutrition information panel on packaged foods and choose lower-sodium options. This is especially important for foods your kids eat often (such as breads, cereals and processed meats).
- Cut back on fast food and takeaways. Avoid adding salt to chips.
- Use herbs, spices and other seasonings instead of salt – during cooking and at the table.
Consumers International (of which Consumer NZ is a member) has drafted recommendations advising governments to reduce children’s exposure to marketing through regulation and to impose compositional limits on the saturated fat, added sugar and sodium content of food.
Consumer NZ supports these recommendations. There’s evidence that food marketing makes children want to eat unhealthy foods – and it’s time the government acted to protect them.