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Toddlers Getting Too Much Sodium, Sugar From Prepackaged Foods

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Toddlers are consuming too much salt and sugar, contained in commercial foods, a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveals.

Prepackaged foods meant for youngsters often contain high levels of sugar and salt, potentially harming the health of children in their first few years of life.

Researchers studying nutritional contributions of foods for toddlers looked at ready-made food packages, including macaroni and cheese, miniature hot dogs, dry cereals, juices, desserts and vegetables.  

High levels of sodium were found in 72 percent of the products sampled, averaging 361 milligrams of sodium per serving. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends that toddlers consume no more than two-thirds that amount - 210 milligrams with each serving.

Sugar was another concern of CDC researchers, who found levels far beyond what is recommended. The IOM has stated that toddlers should consume no more than 35 percent of their calories from sugar. Examination of commercial food products revealed that sugar in the prepackaged items averaged 66 percent of total calories. Dairy-based desserts averaged 35 percent of their calories coming from sugar, in line with IOM recommendations. That number rose to 47 among grain-based mixed grain and fruit items.

Added sugar, beyond that found in foods in their natural state, was found in 32 percent of all prepackaged meals intended for toddlers and infants. A report from the American Heart Association, released in 2009, determined that American toddlers consume an average of 12 teaspoons of sugar each day, three to four times higher than recommended levels. Additional sugar was even found in savory foods, such as pasta, chicken and macaroni and cheese.

Around 17 percent of all children have high blood pressure. According to the CDC, 79 percent of children in their first year of life consume more than the recommended maximum of 1,500 milligrams of sodium each day.

"Some of the foods had about similar [sugar or salt] content to what we see in adult foods. For example, in the category of savory snacks or salty snacks, the average sodium concentration, or amount of sodium per 100 grams, was about the same as you see in plain potato chips," Mary Cogswell from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said.

Taste preferences established in childhood often translate into food choices in later life, possibly driving adults to make unhealthy choices when selecting foods. Investigators at the CDC are concerned that developing a taste for sugar and salt in early life could drive people to consume foods which could lead to high blood pressure and other health issues.

Investigation of salt and sugar levels in prepackaged foods for toddlers was detailed in the journal Pediatrics.

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