U.S. Teens Eat Too Much Salt, Hiking Obesity Risk
Researchers found that kids consume at least twice the recommended daily amounts
What's more, the team found a direct association between ingesting high levels of salt and the risk for being overweight or obese, having a larger waist and having higher body fat and fat mass. Concentration levels of leptin, a key hormone involved in the regulation of hunger and metabolism, were also found to rise as salt intake increased.
The finding of a direct -- as opposed to indirect -- link between salt intake and obesity risk is somewhat of a twist, the researchers suggested.
Many previous studies have highlighted an indirect association between salt intake and obesity. Such research reflected the fact that salt typically spurs a desire to drink more sugary soda and eat more calorie-laden food.
The new study, however, found that teens who took in high amounts of salt every day were more likely to be obese regardless of their particular drinking and eating habits.
Why this is the case remains unclear, the investigators said. And Zhu stressed that more research is needed.
"We didn't look at the mechanism behind this," she said. "Animal research does suggest that salt does directly increase obesity risk. But for now we cannot prove any causality."
Lona Sandon, a registered dietitian and assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern, in Dallas, made a similar point.
"With this type of study," she said, "it is always important to point out that it is a correlation relationship, not showing a cause and effect."
But Sandon nonetheless said the findings were "interesting" and suggested they be viewed as a kind of wake-up call.
"Parents should be concerned about the quality of the diet their children are eating," she said. "A poor-quality diet during childhood and adolescence leads to poor-quality health in adulthood."
Her advice? "The best thing parents can do is to start by setting a good example by making healthier low-sodium food choices themselves," she said. "Then make an effort to provide low-sodium foods, meaning mostly fresh and minimally processed foods available for the whole family at home. Limit the amount of food prepared away from home and get back in the kitchen."