The findings, from researchers at the University of Bristol and published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, are based on almost 1200 participants from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children from the early 90’s.
The researchers, led by Dr Pauline Emmett, said that their findings show that salt intakes need to be substantially reduced in children of this age group.
“Infants need foods specifically prepared for them without added salt, so it is important to adapt the family diet,” said Emmett and her colleagues, adding that manufacturers have “a responsibility to reduce the salt content of food products.”
“Given that three-quarters of salt in the diet comes from processed adult foods, successful salt-reduction strategies can only be achieved with the co-operation of the food industry,” they said.
Emmett and her colleagues said that high levels of salt can cause damage to developing kidneys, whilst adding that giving children a taste for salty foods can establish poor eating practices that continue into adulthood, resulting in health problems, such as cardiovascular disease, later in life.
The researchers studied dietary records of 1178 eight-month-old infants born in 1991/92 and involved in the Children of the 90s study at the University of Bristol.
The researchers found that the majority of infants were first introduced to solids between three and four months of age, with the mean salt intake for the highest group at 8 months more than double the maximum recommendation for that age group (400mg sodium per day up to 12 months).
Emmett and her team reported that those in the highest group consumer three times the amount of bread compared to the lowest group, and were given salty flavourings such as yeast extract and gravy. They also found that many children were given cows' milk – which has higher levels of salt than breast or formula milk – as their main drink despite recommendations that it should not be used in this way until babies are at least one year old.
“This research suggests that clear advice is needed for parents about what foods are suitable for infants. This should be given to all parents and carers and should include the important advice not to use cows' milk as a main drink before 12 months of age,” said the researchers.
Emmett and her colleagues said that if the study were to be repeated again – nearly 20 years after the original – it is likely that there would be some improvement in children’s salt intakes, “but not enough to safeguard the health of all babies.”
Source: European Journal of Clinical Nutrition
Published online ahead of print, doi:10.1038/ejcn.2011.137
“Contribution of inappropriate complementary foods to the salt intake of 8-month-old infants"
Authors: V.L. Cribb, J.M. Warren, P.M. Emmett