Research has frequently shown that high sodium consumption is the biggest contributor to high blood pressure, yet somehow we continue to give our children an early taste for food that will increase their risk for heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. A study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that a majority of packaged foods marketed for infants and toddlers contain way too much salt and sugar.

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010, Americans aged 2 and up should limit sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams a day. Unfortunately, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2009-2010 revealed that sodium intake has reached 2,307 milligrams (mg) per day among 2- to 5-year-olds, 3,260mg per day among 8- to 12 year-olds, and 3,486mg among 13- to 18-year-olds.

“We also know that about one in nine children have blood pressure above the normal range for their age, and that sodium, excess sodium, is related to increased blood pressure,” the study’s lead author from the CDC Mary Cogswell told The Associated Press. “Blood pressure tracks from when children are young up through adolescence into when they’re adults. Eating foods which are high in sodium can set a child up for high blood pressure and later on for cardiovascular disease.”

Cogswell and her colleagues gathered data using a 2012 nutrient database that included 1,074 packaged foods and drinks for infants and toddlers. While researchers did not list brand names of children’s foods, they did include types of packaged food, such as infant vegetables, dinners, fruits, dry cereals, ready-to-serve mixed grains and fruit, toddler cereal bars, breakfast pastries, and juice drinks.

The Institute of Medicine’s recommendations for foods served in schools — high salt content representing over 210mg of salt or sodium per serving and high sugar content representing over 35 percent of calories per portion coming from sugar — were used to determine high sugar and salt content for packaged foods.

Average sodium amounts per serving for packaged foods included in the study ranged from 100mg to over 900mg. Out of 72 dinners marketed for toddlers, 72 percent were high in sodium content. One out of every three toddler dinners and most toddler cereal bars, breakfast pastries, fruit, dessert, juices, and infant/toddler snacks contained at least one added sugar.

The Grocery Manufacturers of America advised that parents take findings from this study with a grain of salt:

“We are concerned that the study does not accurately reflect the wide range of healthy choices available in today’s marketplace that parents can turn to for feeding their infants and toddlers because it is based on 2012 data that does not reflect new products with reduced sodium levels, and it could needlessly alarm and confuse busy parents as they strive to develop suitable meal options that their children will enjoy,” GMA said in a statement.

Source: Merritt R, Park S, Yuan K, Gunn J, Cogswell M. Sodium and Sugar in Complementary Infant and Toddler Foods Sold in the United States. Pediatrics. 2015.