Most people know that salt contributes to high blood pressure – that in turn inflicts irreversible damage on multiple organ systems, including the heart. But few think of this as a threat to children. A report from St. George’s University of London, which revealed a connection of salt intake to high blood pressure in kids as young as four years old, shows what a mistake that is. Yet it’s an easy mistake to fix. A second report from that same institution, which summarized 13 different studies among children, concluded that the drop in blood pressure from not adding salt in infancy dramatically reduces blood pressure and cardiovascular problems as children grow older.
A new study published in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension shows the extensive amount of work that needs to be done when it comes to bringing this problem under control. Pediatric hypertension-related hospitalizations in the United States have nearly doubled, from 12,661 in 1997 to 24,602 in 2006. During that same time period, inpatient care for hypertensive children reached an estimated $3.1 billion, a 50 percent increase that doesn’t even include outpatient charges nationwide.
The declining health of America’s children has a lot to do with a culprit few even suspect: salt. Cardiothoracic surgeon Surender Neravetla, M.D., who leads Mercy Health-Springfield Regional Medical Center’s cardiothoracic surgery program, last fall presented the Springfield City Commission with a petition to require restaurants to display the salt content of dishes on their menus. This petition was signed by more than 75 Mercy Health-Springfield physicians. Now Neravetla is appealing to the Restaurant Association of Ohio with a similar request.
Salt intake can lead to high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, a major contributing factor to heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States. Although heart disease is responsible for one in every four deaths, the American Heart Association estimates that 80 percent of heart disease is preventable.
The World Health Organization reports that half of strokes and heart attacks are caused by hypertension. Today, the most common cause of hypertension is table salt consumption.
ypertension is now present in 1 to 3 percent of American children. However, the salt threat extends beyond causing high blood pressure. “In adults, salt can cause problems including osteoporosis, dementia and stomach cancer, and we’re literally salting in the seeds of these incurable diseases during infancy and childhood,” says Dr. Neravetla. But some of those seeds are taking root well before children ever grow up.
One of the biggest problems confronting kids today is obesity. More American children than ever before – almost one in three – are obese. Resulting health challenges can range from Type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and, of course, high blood pressure to bone and joint problems, breathing difficulty, and a range of diseases including cancer. That does not even include the emotional and social challenges that come from being a fat kid.
Dr. Neravetla says, “Experts point to too much food (including too much sugar) and too little exercise when discussing what’s responsible for the rise in childhood obesity. But they overlook the fact that salt is another leading player in this tragedy. Why do so many kids consume so many calories each day? Because salt overrides the mechanism in our body that tells us we’re full. So kids keep eating all those processed foods that are chock full of sodium.”
In response to this, Neravetla has proposed a set of rules that restaurants can follow to help customers know the sodium levels their food, make informed decisions on what is the best option for them and their health and avoid unnecessary salt.
Neravetla’s proposed rules call on restaurants to: Provide salt content information on the menu; Participate proactively in the prevention and management of heart disease; Create and provide more healthy meal; options; Provide salt shakers only upon request; and, Prepare sauces and gravies without salt
Dr. Surender Neravetla and his daughter, Dr. Soumya Neravetla are now working together to create awareness on the health issues from SALT. Along with having a chance to work with her father, Soumya Neravetla has helped stabilize the department, save lives and start implementing new programs that will ideally improve care for patients for years, her father said.
A former valedictorian at Springfield North, she went on to attend Northeast Ohio Medical University near Akron, and practiced and studied at sites like Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh and Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. However, she wasn’t sure what path to take next when an unexpected opportunity opened.
Lofton Misick, a heart surgeon who’s worked with Surender Neravetla for years, left Springfield Regional to take a new position in Texas. So Soumya Neravetla moved back to Springfield last fall to help stabilize the cardiac department while she determines what path her career will take next.
Finding a qualified surgeon with the right skills to replace Misick can be a long process, she said, so taking the job in Springfield allowed the hospital more time. Amit Arora has since joined the staff in March, but Soumya Neravetla said she plans to stay on a little longer to help implement new medical programs.
It’s not clear how long Soumya Neravetla plans to remain working side-by-side with her father, but she said she wants to continue to implement and stabilize a handful of programs before deciding on her next step. For example, she’s spearheading a lung screening program that will ideally help staff diagnose and treat lung cancer patients earlier and make patients more aware of treatment options locally.
Implementing that program is a lengthy process that includes working with insurers, improving the hospital’s available technology and promoting more public awareness in the topic. “We hope in short order we’ll capture more lung cancers at an earlier stage,” she said.
Dr. Surender Neravetla is a vascular surgeon in Springfield, Ohio. He received his medical degree from Osmania Medical College NTR UHS and has been in practice for more than 20 years.
“Children’s ill health has reached epidemic levels in this country,” says Dr. Neravetla. “But this is a man-made disaster. As a parent, you would probably give your life to protect your youngsters from danger. So the last thing you want to do is to voluntarily feed them a diet that compromises their health now and in the future. The key to better health for our children is simple. We have to start by getting rid of enemy number one in our food: salt.” For more information about Salt Kills by Surender R. Neravetla, MD, FACS with Shantanu R. Neravetla, MD, visit http://saltkills.com