Too much salt may negatively impact children’s education

Young children in eight coastal districts of Bangladesh regularly drinking salty water were almost 7 percentage points less likely to advance a grade in school

New research from NUS has discovered the negative impact salt consumption may have on children’s education. 

The study monitored young children’s academic progress in eight coastal districts of Bangladesh and discovered that children who live in households with higher levels of salt in their water supplies were less likely to succeed in their studies.

Specifically, 7 to 12-year-old children were 6.7 percentage points more prone to repeat a grade in school if the water they regularly drank contained more than 1 gram of salt per litre.

Assistant Professor Sonia Akter from the NUS Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy who conducted this research, said, “Although sodium is necessary for human health, excessive consumption of sodium has negative health effects. The findings of the study suggest that exposure to drinking water salinity is slowing down young children’s progress at school.”

The study was published in the journal Science of the Total Environment on 10 November 2019.

The correlation between salt intake and poor grades

This study specifically examined salt consumed from water sources, but if this correlation proves to be causative, any form of excessive dietary salt — such as smoked or cured meats and fish — is likely to have the same effect.

Although this study targeted coastal regions of Bangladesh, Asst Prof Akter said, “The pathways through which the salinity effects manifest to lower educational attainment are the same in all countries. Public health research has shown that the negative health effects of excessive salt intake for children and adults are the same in developed as well as developing countries.”

“In other words, the lower cognitive ability resulted from excessive salinity exposure during early childhood is likely to be true for Singaporeans, but it may not necessarily lead to lower educational attainment because of the highly advanced and robust education and health systems of Singapore,” Asst Prof Akter stated.

Next steps

Interestingly, this study found that the correlation between too much salt and repeating a grade only affected young children. A similar effect was not found among older children. “Hence, the next step for this research is to understand how age mediates the negative effects of excessive salt consumption on education,” Asst Prof Akter said.

Asst Prof Akter would also like to further understand in what ways the education of children is impacted. “I would like to use additional measures of education and learning other than just grade advancement. Other relevant measures are indicators of cognitive ability, IQ and test scores (math, reading, writing),” she said.