Parents! Rise in Kiddie Kidney Stones Due to Salty Foods

Attention Parents!

A Rise in Kidney Stones in Children Due to Salty Processed Foods?

Dr. Robyn Silverman


As if we needed another reason not to feed our children processed foods.

We’ve talked about the rise in cholesterol, weight, and now…kidney stones in children.

“I thought older men get kidney stones, not kids,” Mother of 11 year-old Tessa Cesario, aspiring ballerina, who was diagnosed with kidney stones last February

Why kidney stones when you thought that it was a middle-age problem? No surprise here. The high salt content in processed and fast foods is contributing to kidney stones in children as young as 5 or 6 years old. As parents, how can we be responsible?  Are we responsible?

What’s going on? Though much of the research is on adult patients, experts believe that kidney stones in children are due to dietary factors. Kidney stones are crystallizations of several different substances in urine. When these substances become increasingly concentrated, kidney stones form.

Major factors? High salt intake and low fluid intake. These risk factors increase the amount of calcium and oxalate in the urine, the culprits in the formation of 40-65 percent of kidney stones.

Where’s all the salt coming from? Salty foods like chips and French fries as well as common lunchbox stuffers; processed sandwich meats, canned soups, pre-packed meals, and energy drinks like Gatorade.

“What we’ve really seen is an increase in the salt load in children’s diet,” –Dr. Bruce L. Slaughenhoupt, co-director of the pediatric kidney stone clinic and the pediatric urology at the University of Wisconsin

Remember our discussion from Fast Food Flops For Tots? Besides being almost always too high in calories, 45 percent of the kids’ meals at the 13 chains studied by CSPI are too high in saturated and trans fat, and 86 percent are too high in SODIUM. And what the salt in these common lunchbox stuffers?

  • Oscar Mayer Lunchables Deluxe Turkey and Ham with Swiss and Cheddar, 1 package= 1940 mg of sodium
  • Oscar Mayer Lunchables Megapak Pizza Deep Dish Extra Cheesy, 1 package= 1240 mg of sodium
  • Oscar Mayer Lunchables Megapak Deep Dish Pepperoni, 1 package= 1250 mg of sodium

*Recommended salt intake for children? Everyone needs some salt– but not a lot!

  • Less than 1g per day from 0-6 month;
  • 1g per day from 7-12 months;
  • 2g per day from 1-3 years;
  • 3g per day from 4-6 years;
  • 5g per day from 7-10 years.

* These are maximum levels– aim for less.

Why the problem with fluid intake? Children aren’t drinking enough water throughout the day—especially not in school. They only drink when thirsty and by that time it may be too little water too late.

    “They don’t want to go to the bathroom at school; they don’t have time, so they drink less,” said Dr. Alicia Neu, medical director of pediatric nephrology and the pediatric stone clinic at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center in Baltimore.

Any other contributors? Soda. Evidence shows that sucrose, found in sodas, can also increase risk of kidney stones in children. In addition, high-protein weight-loss diets, popular with teens, can also contribute to a higher incidence of kidney stones.

Median Age for Kidney Stones in Children: 10 years old

Possible description? While some have mentioned “obesity” as a possible factor, most doctors admit that children with healthy weights can suffer from kidney stones as well.

    “Of the school-age and adolescent kids we’ve seen, most of them appear to be reasonably fit, active kids,” Dr. Nelson said. “We’re not seeing a parade of overweight Nintendo players.”

    “There’s no question in my mind that it is largely dietary and directly related to the childhood obesity epidemic,” Dr. Pope, Nashville

Family History Connection? Yes, 60% of the time. If a child has a family history of kidney stones, it’s very important to recognize their risk, curb high salt consumption, and increase hydration.

How will I know? Children with kidney stones may complain of stomach aches, severe pain in their side or stomachs, feeling sick to their stomach, or even have blood in their urine.

What can I do now? Encourage your children to drink more water both at home and in school. Stay away from processed foods, read the labels on canned soups and look for low sodium varieties or make your own and freeze them in small amounts. Switch soda for more healthful options—some of which are listed here. Get your children on board and teach them the components of a healthful lunch and how to take care of their bodies so that they stay healthy for a long, long time.

What do you think? Do you believe our children are eating too much salt? Is this just the beginning? Are our children’s diets getting worse? Do you have any tips or ideas? Changes you’ve made? Share your story below.