Chuck, did you hear the latest news about the huge rise in high blood pressure among U.S. children? What’s a nation to do? – Terry C. in South Dakota

News agencies across the country just reported that the risk of high blood pressure among children and teens has risen 27 percent over 13 years, based upon a study in the American Heart Association’s journal Hypertension.

The research looked at the health and nutrition of more than 11,600 children ages 8 to 17, documented during two periods – one from 1988 to 1994 and the other from 1999 to 2008.

The Los Angeles Times summarized the study by noting: “Children whose body mass or waistline measurements were in the top 25 percent for their age group were about twice as likely to have elevated blood pressure as children with measurements in the bottom 25 percent. Also, children with the greatest sodium intake were 36 percent more likely than those with the lowest intake to have elevated blood pressure.”

As with adults, such elevated blood pressure makes kids more susceptible in the future to stroke, heart disease and kidney failure, according to the study’s co-author Dr. Bonita Falkner, professor of medicine and pediatrics at Thomas Jefferson University.

So what is the cause of this increase in risk for high blood pressure? Nothing other than rising obesity and the good ol’ American diet. Researchers concluded that the past few decades have only deepened kids’ dependency on processed foods and excessive salt in the diet.

Falkner told Fox News: “The salt content of the food supply has increased markedly over the past few decades, and there’s been a progressive rise in the proportion of the average daily diet that is processed food. There’s probably much more salt exposure in children now.”

More than 80 percent of the kids in the study said they ate more than 2,300 milligrams of salt daily – the maximum recommended intake for adults by many experts. According to HealthDay, the average American eats 3,400 milligrams of salt every day – twice the American Heart Association’s recommendation of 1,500 milligrams or fewer.

Sodium is necessary for human health. It aids muscle fiber contraction, nerve impulse transmission and – with potassium – balances body fluid levels, but it takes only a minuscule amount to perform those actions (less than 1/10 of a teaspoon, when the average American gets 20 times that amount).

According to the University of California, Berkeley Wellness Letter, “There is no (recommended dietary allowance) for sodium. The minimum amount you need for good health is only about 115 milligrams a day.” (A quarter-teaspoon contains about 500 milligrams of sodium and about 100 micrograms of iodine.)

Though the human body can generally excrete excess sodium, extra salt consumption forces many people’s bodies to retain water, increasing the fluids in the blood vessels and, subsequently, their blood pressure.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that all of this is preventable.

Dr. Ana Paredes, a pediatric nephrologist at Miami Children’s Hospital, says she first treats her 10 to 15 daily patients – mostly teenagers – who are overweight and have hypertension by educating them about reducing the salt intake in their diet, eating more healthful foods and exercising more.

But if you’re thinking that a little less shake from the saltshaker will do the trick, think again. Paredes says salt saturation in our diets and bodies happens much more subtly than that. She explained to HealthDay that the large amounts of salt children consume come mostly from processed foods and drinks: “If you are drinking Gatorade while watching TV or working on the computer, you’re just intoxicating yourself with salt.”

According to the newsletter HEALTHbeat, other leading foods that pack in the sodium are potato chips and other snack foods, canned juices, canned and dry soups, pizza and other fast foods, sandwich meats, and smoked and cured meats.

That is why I always include among my health and nutrition recommendations:

  • Read nutrition labels closely, and buy items labeled low in sodium.
  • Use little or no salt when cooking or eating.
  • Eat more fresh or home-prepared foods and fewer processed foods.
  • Ask that salt not be added to your food at restaurants.
  • Gradually reduce sodium intake over time to get used to the taste.

HEALTHbeat recently gave “5 ways to use less salt.” They are great tips for kids and kings. Instead of salt:

  1. Use spices and other flavor enhancers, such as dried and fresh herbs, roots (such as garlic and ginger), citrus, vinegar, black pepper, cinnamon, turmeric, fresh basil, chili peppers and lemon juice.
  2. Go nuts for healthy fats in the kitchen. Eat roasted nuts, avocados and other plant-based oils – e.g., olive, canola and soybean oils.
  3. Sear and saute and roast, which builds flavor and brings out the natural sweetness of many vegetables and the taste of fish and chicken. If you do steam or microwave food, finish it with a drizzle of flavorful oil and a squeeze of citrus.
  4. Get your whole grains from sources other than bread, which contains salt. For breakfast, cook steel-cut oats, farro or other intact whole grains with fresh or dried fruit. For lunch or dinner, try a whole-grain salad with chopped vegetables, legumes, nuts, herbs, spices and healthy oil and vinegar or citrus.
  5. Shop for raw ingredients with maximum natural flavor. Buy peak-of-season produce from local and organic farmers markets and supermarkets.

Write to Chuck Norris with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook’s “Official Chuck Norris Page.” He blogs at

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