Children as young as four are eating so much salt it is putting their health at risk by raising their blood pressure, a study suggests.
Parents should monitor the salt content of their child's food
The average four-year-old ate 4.7g a day, which is way above the 2-3g recommended for this age group, the Journal of Human Hypertension reports.
Each extra gram eaten raised blood pressure significantly. This increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Experts warned parents to look out for hidden salt in foods.
In the study, which involved 2,127 4-18-year-olds in Britain as part of an official audit for the Department of Health called the National Diet and Nutrition Survey, salt intake did not include salt added in cooking or at the table, although this often occurred.
About 1,658 kept a diary of what they ate and drank and their salt intake and blood pressure was recorded.
The children eating the highest salt diet had the highest levels of blood pressure, even after other factors such as age, sex and weight had been taken into account.
Every extra gram of salt consumed by the children was related to a rise in systolic (peak) blood pressure of 0.44mmHg - which the researchers say tallies with past studies linking high salt intake with high blood pressure.
Professor Malcolm Law, professor of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine at the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, said the findings were concerning.
RECOMMENDED DAILY MAXIMUM FOR SALT
0-6 months less than 1g
7-12 months 1g
1-3 years 2g
4-6 years 3g
7-10 years 5g
11-14 years 6g
Source: Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition
"This confirms that eating more salt increases blood pressure in childhood and also adds extra weight to the current public health campaign to reduce salt in the UK diet."
Jo Butten of Consensus Action on Salt and Health said: "The message for parents is to check labels, especially on foods such as breakfast cereals and snack products, which they may not expect to contain high levels of salt, and choose the lower salt options.
"It may be difficult for parents to tell their children they can't have crisps every day, or that they need to eat a different breakfast cereal, or that some instant noodles should be avoided completely, but surely it's a small price to pay to reduce their risk of having a heart attack or stroke when they are older?"