London - Salty snacks could be fuelling childhood obesity as they encourage youngsters to guzzle sweetened drinks to quench their thirst, say researchers.

A study of 4 200 children in Australia found that those who consumed high amounts of salt were also the most likely to reach for high-calorie beverages.

This put them at risk of unhealthy weight gain, according to the research from Deakin University.

Lead author Carley Grimes, said: “Reducing salt in children’s diets may help to reduce the amount of sugary drinks they consume and therefore help with efforts to reduce the high rates of overweight and obesity.”

For the study the researchers analysed data from the 2007 Australian National Children’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey. It collected diet and physical activity information from 4 283 children aged two to 16 years.

The researchers looked at the children’s consumption of dietary salt, fluids and sugar sweetened drinks.

They found 62 percent reported consuming sugar sweetened drinks.

In this group, children who consumed more salt consumed more fluid and in particular more sugar-sweetened drinks.

The children who consumed more than one sugary drink a day were 34 percent more likely to be overweight or obese.

The researchers also found that for every 1g of salt consumed a day, the children drank 46g more fluid, with those who reported consuming sugar sweetened drinks drinking 17g more for every 1g of salt.

Previous research has shown that children are eating about 6g of salt a day, or four times more than is recommended.

Grimes said that together with the results of this new study, it is becoming even clearer that there is a need to keep a closer eye on how much salt our children eat to help ensure they lead long and healthy lives.

“High salt diets not only put children at risk of serious long-term health problems, such as developing high blood pressure later in life, which is a major cause of stroke and heart disease, they are likely to be contributing to the rates of overweight and obesity,” she said.

The results of this study will be published in the January issue of the journal Pediatrics. – Daily Mail