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Meals and snacks aimed at toddlers have become increasingly popular in grocery stores across the country. But new U.S. research found the vast majority of those products contain too much sodium, raising concerns over the potential health risks.

An analysis of more than 1,000 food products for toddlers found that nearly 75 per cent are high in sodium. The results were presented Thursday at the American Heart Association's Epidemiology and Prevention/Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism 2013 Scientific Sessions in New Orleans.

"Our concern is the possible long-term health risks of introducing high levels of sodium in a child's diet because high blood pressure, as well as a preference for salty foods, may develop early in life," Joyce Maalouf, lead author of the report and fellow at the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a statement.

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At the same time, other researchers at the conference also reported that excessive sodium consumption contributed to 2.3 million heart-related deaths around the world in 2010.

High sodium consumption is a leading risk factor for heart disease, which is a major contributor to heart attack, stroke and other cardiovascular problems. For babies and toddlers under age four, the recommended daily intake is 1,000 milligrams of sodium. According to Statistics Canada, the average daily sodium intake in that age group is 1,918 milligrams.

The new research defined an item as high in sodium if it contained more than 210 milligrams of sodium per serving. The authors found that toddler meals had as much as 630 milligrams of sodium, more than half the recommended intake.

Although the research is based on products sold in the U.S., there are plenty of examples of high-sodium toddler fare in Canada, from meals sold in grocery stores to entrées at sit down and fast food restaurants.

Many members of the medical community have been advocating for lower sodium in packaged and processed foods, seeing as most of the sodium Canadians consume in a day comes from those products.

Health Canada has established a goal to lower the average sodium content of Canadians to 2,300 milligrams by 2016. The food industry says it is committed to the goal.

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About the Author

Carly Weeks has been a journalist with The Globe and Mail since 2007.  She has reported on everything from federal politics to the high levels of sodium in the Canadian diet. More


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