Sodium Intake among US School-Aged Children: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2011-2012

Published:November 03, 2016DOI:



      Identifying current major dietary sources of sodium can enhance strategies to reduce excess sodium intake, which occurs among 90% of US school-aged children.


      To describe major food sources, places obtained, and eating occasions contributing to sodium intake among US school-aged children.


      Cross-sectional analysis of data from the 2011-2012 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.


      A nationally representative sample of 2,142 US children aged 6 to 18 years who completed a 24-hour dietary recall.

      Main outcome measures

      Population proportions of sodium intake from major food categories, places, and eating occasions.

      Statistical analyses performed

      Statistical analyses accounted for the complex survey design and sampling. Wald F tests and t tests were used to examine differences between subgroups.


      Average daily sodium intake was highest among adolescents aged 14 to 18 years (3,565±120 mg), lowest among girls (2,919±74 mg). Little variation was seen in average intakes or the top five sodium contributors by sociodemographic characteristics or weight status. Ten food categories contributed to almost half (48%) of US school-aged children’s sodium intake, and included pizza, Mexican-mixed dishes, sandwiches, breads, cold cuts, soups, savory snacks, cheese, plain milk, and poultry. More than 80 food categories contributed to the other half of children’s sodium intake. Foods obtained from stores contributed 58% of sodium intake, fast-food/pizza restaurants contributed 16%, and school cafeterias contributed 10%. Thirty-nine percent of sodium intake was consumed at dinner, 31% at lunch, 16% from snacks, and 14% at breakfast.


      With the exception of plain milk, which naturally contains sodium, the top 10 food categories contributing to US schoolchildren’s sodium intake during 2011-2012 comprised foods in which sodium is added during processing or preparation. Sodium is consumed throughout the day from multiple foods and locations, highlighting the importance of sodium reduction across the US food supply.


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      Z. S. Quader is a contractor with IHRC Inc, Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA.


      C. Gillespie is a senior statistician, Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA.


      K. Mugavero is a public health analyst, Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA.


      M. E. Cogswell is a senior scientist, Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA.


      S. A. Sliwa is a health scientist, Division of Population Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA.


      J. P. Gunn is associate director for policy, Division for Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA.


      J. K. C. Ahuja is a nutritionist, Nutrient Data Laboratory, US Department of Agriculture, Beltsville, MD.


      P. R. Pehrsson is a research leader, Nutrient Data Laboratory, US Department of Agriculture, Beltsville, MD.


      A. Moshfegh is a supervisory nutritionist, Food Surveys Research Group, US Department of Agriculture, Beltsville, MD.


      J. P. Burdg is a social science policy analyst, Food and Nutrition Service, US Department of Agriculture, Alexandria, VA.