/PRNewswire/ -- The declining health of America's children has a lot to do with a culprit few even suspect: salt. In Salt Kills (Health Now Books, 2012), Dr. Surender R. Neravetla, a heart surgeon and the Director of Cardiac Surgery at Springfield Regional Medical Center explains in easy-to-understand language why salt can be even more of a problem during a child's formative years than it is later on in adulthood. In addition, it sets children up for increased stroke and heart risk later in life.
Most people know that salt contributes to high blood pressure - that in turn inflicts irreversible damage on multiple organ systems, including the heart. But few think of this as a threat to children. A report from St. George's University of London, which revealed a connection of salt intake to high blood pressure in kids as young as four years old, shows what a mistake that is. Yet it's an easy mistake to fix. A second report from that same institution, which summarized 13 different studies among children, concluded that the drop in blood pressure from not adding salt in infancy dramatically reduces blood pressure and cardiovascular problems as children grow older.
A new study published in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension shows the extensive amount of work that needs to be done when it comes to bringing this problem under control. Pediatric hypertension-related hospitalizations in the United States have nearly doubled, from 12,661 in 1997 to 24,602 in 2006. During that same time period, inpatient care for hypertensive children reached an estimated $3.1 billion, a 50 percent increase that doesn't even include outpatient charges nationwide.
Hypertension is now present in 1 to 3 percent of American children. However, the salt threat extends beyond causing high blood pressure. "In adults, salt can cause problems including osteoporosis, dementia and stomach cancer, and we're literally salting in the seeds of these incurable diseases during infancy and childhood," says Dr. Neravetla. But some of those seeds are taking root well before children ever grow up.
One of the biggest problems confronting kids today is obesity. More American children than ever before - almost one in three - are obese. Resulting health challenges can range from Type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and, of course, high blood pressure to bone and joint problems, breathing difficulty, and a range of diseases including cancer. That does not even include the emotional and social challenges that come from being a fat kid.
Dr. Neravetla says, "Experts point to too much food (including too much sugar) and too little exercise when discussing what's responsible for the rise in childhood obesity. But they overlook the fact that salt is another leading player in this tragedy. Why do so many kids consume so many calories each day? Because salt overrides the mechanism in our body that tells us we're full. So kids keep eating all those processed foods that are chock full of sodium."
Asthma now impacts 22 million children in this country. Adding salt to their diet - whether through the salt shaker or our menu choices - invites acute asthmatic attacks.
If you look at the "Top Ten Most Unwanted List" in Doctor Neravetla's book Salt Kills, almost every item is a staple in most kids' diets, including pizza, lunch meats, cheese, canned soups, boxed cereals, salty potato chips and carbonated drinks. Even baby food contains salt!
"Adding salt to baby food is downright dangerous. Babies' systems are delicate. That's especially true of their kidneys, which can't process high amounts of sodium. Natural foods (including fruits, vegetables and breast milk or infant formula) already contain salt. Add more - whether using the salt shaker or processed foods like canned broth or crackers - and the risk of compromising your baby's kidneys and blood pressure is at stake. Too much salt can also cause brain damage in infants. Research also shows that babies who start eating salt at a young age develop a taste for salt and keep eating it," says Dr. Neravetla.
"Children's ill health has reached epidemic levels in this country," says Dr. Neravetla. "But this is a man-made disaster. As a parent, you would probably give your life to protect your youngsters from danger. So the last thing you want to do is to voluntarily feed them a diet that compromises their health now and in the future. The key to better health for our children is simple. We have to start by getting rid of enemy number one in our food: salt."