Salt to sugar to obesity?

The press is giving plenty of attention this week to a study suggesting a connection between childrens’ salt intake and obesity. Two years ago on this blog, Mickey hypothesized much the same.
Here’s what we wrote in 2006 (Can blogging boost the rate of progress in medicine?):

A few times in the past year I’ve eaten meats or baked goods that turned out to have a lot of salt in them. Since I usually don’t have much salt, the events are noticeable. Not surprisingly I get a taste of salt in my mouth, but interestingly I get a huge craving for sweet things.

I’m wondering if such an effect occurs chronically in people who eat a much higher salt diet than I do. The prediction would be that people with higher salt consumption would have a higher consumption of free sugars and therefore have other consequences such as obesity and dental problems.

One could imagine that the high amount of salt in ready-to-eat foods is one of the factors underlying the high rate of obesity.

And here’s the new study, as reported in the Daily Telegraph (Cut children’s salt intake to fight obesity):

Children who eat a lot of salt also consume more sugary drinks, increasing their risk of obesity, scientists have warned.

British researchers claim that cutting a child’s salt intake by half can lead to a drop in the number of cans of fizzy drink they consume.

Children who halved their consumption of salt to 3g per day also cut out two cans of fizzy drinks a week, reducing their total calories by 250 a week.

Salt is well known to increase thirst but because children are more likely to drink sugary cola and pop than water to quench their thirst, those who have a diet high in salt are also more likely to be overweight.

Scientists predict a quarter of children will be obese by 2050, leading to an big rise in the number of cases of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer. The research, published last night in Hypertension, the journal of the American Heart Association, found lowering salt consumption by 1g a day would reduce consumption of sugary drinks by 27g a day.

The study postulates that children drank sweet soda because they were thirsty, but Mickey suggests they may have craved both liquid and sweetness.

It was the intent of our original post to provoke inquiry into this connection, and while we don’t know if we had anything to do with this study we’ll declare victory anyway!

February 22, 2008

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