Helping Children Reduce Dietary Sodium

Janelle Peralez Gunn, MPH, RD


December 31, 2012

Editorial Collaboration

Medscape &

This feature requires the newest version of Flash. You can download it here.

Hello. I am Janelle Peralez Gunn, Cardiovascular Nutritionist with the Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Today, as part of the CDC Commentary Series on Medscape, I would like to talk to you about consuming too much sodium and the impact it has on our children's health.

Nine in 10 Americans are eating too much sodium in their diet -- much of it unknowingly -- in restaurant and processed foods, and not from the salt shaker. As you may have seen, a recent CDC study[1] that looked at sodium intake among children and teens between the ages of 8 and 18 years found that they consumed nearly 3400 mg of sodium every day, about the same amount as adults.

Higher sodium intake is associated with higher blood pressure, but the impact of higher sodium intake -- and corresponding risk for elevated blood pressure -- was even greater in young people who are overweight or obese. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans[2] recommends that anyone 2 years of age or older should consume less than 2300 mg of sodium per day.

Children of any age who are African American or who have high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease should reduce their sodium intake further, to 1500 mg per day. High blood pressure that begins in childhood typically continues into adulthood.

A child's preference for sodium is developed by the food they are exposed to, so the less sodium they consume, the less sodium they want. Children, like all of us, need only a small amount of sodium. Whereas some sodium is naturally occurring in food, excess sodium is added when food is processed or prepared in restaurants.

The top 10 foods contributing the most sodium in a child's diet include such foods as pizza, poultry, and breads and rolls. Some of these foods are not high in sodium, but because we eat so much of them, the sodium adds up. Even some foods that otherwise seem healthy may have high levels of sodium -- such as cottage cheese and turkey lunchmeat.

It's important for us to help educate parents and children on how their food choices affect their health. So what are some tips you can offer your patients to help them reduce sodium in their diets? You can encourage them:

  • To read nutrition facts labels when shopping and compare the amount of sodium in different brands. One serving of canned chicken noodle soup, for example, can contain 100-940 mg of sodium. Choose lower-sodium brands.

  • Prepare more fresh fruits and vegetables, or canned or frozen fruits and vegetables with no salt added.

  • When eating out, ask your server for lower-sodium menu items, or split a meal.

The good news is that you and your patients can take steps to help reduce sodium intake.

Janelle Peralez Gunn, MPH, RD, is the Acting Policy Team Lead for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention. In addition, Janelle currently coordinates the CDC's sodium reduction initiative, which includes managing efforts with other federal agencies and national partners, providing guidance and assistance to programs, and implementing a Congressional mandate to work with food manufacturers and chain restaurants to lower sodium and report to Congress annually. Her first appointment at the CDC was in 2003 with the Public Health Prevention Service. Janelle has received both a Bachelor of Science degree in nutrition and a Master of Public Health degree with a focus in public health nutrition from the University of Minnesota. She is a registered dietitian.

Web Resources

Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention, CDC.

Yang Q, Zhang Z, Kuklina EV, et al. Sodium intake and blood pressure among US children and adolescents. Pediatrics. 2012;130:611-619.

CDC. Salt. Most Americans Should Consume Less Sodium

CDC. Vital Signs. Where's the Sodium?

US Department of Agriculture, US Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010.