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High Salt Diet Linked To Greater Soft Drink Consumption and Increased Childhood Obesity Risk


One way to fight childhood obesity may be to reduce dietary intake of salt by children, says a new study.

Researchers in Australia found that the amount of salt in a child's diet predicts total fluid consumption and the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, which is associated with obesity risk.  Reducing the amount of salt in a child's diet, they suggest, may help reduce the amount of sugary beverages consumed, which in turn, may lower childhood obesity risk.

The study was published online today ahead of print in the journal Pediatrics. (1)  

Salty pretzel

Link between soft drinks and childhood obesity 

There is a growing body of evidence suggesting a link between increased consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) such as soft drinks, fruit drinks, flavored mineral waters, and sports and energy drinks, and childhood obesity.  Research also suggests that a reduction in dietary salt intake may reduce SSB consumption because eating salty foods stimulates thirst, which, in turn, promotes fluid consumption. In an environment where soft drinks are readily available, a high salt diet may encourage greater consumption of soft drinks in children.

Study findings

Researchers at the Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition Research in the School of Exercise and Nutrition Services at Deakin University in Burwood, Australia studied data obtained from over 4,000 children aged 5 to 16 years.  They found that an additional gram per deciliter (about 3.3 U.S. ounces) of dietary salt intake was associated with 46 g/d of total fluid intake, and that, for Australian children consuming SSBs (less than 60% compared to 80% in the U.S.), each additional gram per deciliter (about 3.3 ounces) of dietary salt intake, was associated with the consumption of an additional 17 g/d of SSB, with dietary salt alone accounting for 11% of the increase.  

In addition, the study found that: 

  • The proportion of children consuming SSBs increased significantly with age;
  • Children of low socioeconomic status (SES) were more significantly more likely to consumer SSBs than those children of high SES;
  • Consumers of SSBs were more likely to be overweight and obese than those who did not consume SSBs;
  • Salt intake increased with age, as did fluid consumption;
  • Salt intake and total fluid consumption were positively linked; and
  • Children who consumed more than 1 serving of SSB were 26% more likely to be overweight or obese, but the association was not statistically significant after adjusting for physical activity. 
Girl with three bottles of different flavored sports drinks

Even minor reductions in salt intake could help

In addition to the known benefits of lowering blood pressure, strategies to reduce the amount of dietary salt intake may help in preventing childhood obesity, the study says.  While acknowledging that the study, along with an earlier study from the United Kingdom (2), show only a "modest positive association between dietary salt intake and SSB consumption," lead author Carley Grimes said that "the importance of minor dietary changes in improving nutritional intakes and health outcomes should not be underestimated."  The study notes that dietary salt intake of Australian children far exceeded dietary recommendations, and that the 5 g/d reduction in salt intake needed to take them to the adequate intake level would result in a 85 g/d reduction in SSB consumption, which, over time, could reduce the risk of obesity.

Thus, Grimes concluded, "salt reduction strategies combined with other SSB reduction strategies may help reduce energy intake and could be useful in obesity prevention efforts."  

1. Grimes CA, Riddell LJ, Campbell KJ, Nowson CA.  Dietary Salt Intake, Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption, and Obesity Risk. Pediatrics 2013;131(1). DOI:10.1542/peds.2012-1628)(published online ahead of print, December 10, 2012). 

2. He FJ, Marrero NM, MacGregor GA. Salt intake is related to soft drink consumption in children and adolescents: a link to obesity? Hypertension 2008;51(3):629-634. 

Posted December 10, 2012