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Most parents don’t realize that children can develop kidney stones at a young age. However, changes to family diets have led to an increase in this serious condition – what has been seen in children as young as age 5.

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When children don’t drink enough water or consume large amounts of salt, calcium or other minerals, chemicals in the urine may crystallize into hard little “stones” that block the urinary tract. This can cause pain in the abdomen, back or groin. Other symptoms include frequent urination, blood in the urine, fever, nausea and vomiting.

Though kidney stones are still far less common in children than they are middle-age and older adults, the incidence of kidney stones in children has been steadily increasing in America over the last decade or so.

Experts believe many factors are contributing to this increase. One reason is that many children’s foods contain large amounts of salt, such as French fries, cheeseburgers and potato chips. Many prepackaged foods, such as lunch meats, packaged meals, canned soups and sports drinks, also contain high levels of salt. In addition, many restaurants add extra salt to their meals.

Dehydration is another major factor in the formation of kidney stones. Many South Florida children don’t drink enough water. Instead, they choose sodas, energy drinks or other sugary beverages instead of water. If fact, some children only drink water after physical exercise.

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Medical research indicates that children who have family histories of kidney stones are at higher risk for developing this condition. However, kidney stones occur in many children without a family history of urinary problems.

Tips for Parents

Here are six tips to reduce the risk of your child developing kidney stones:

  • Limit soda intake. Soda should be a treat, not a daily beverage to be consumed with every meal. If your child insists on a sugar beverage, fill only part of the glass – then add water to dilute the sugar and other additives.
  • Serve water along with snacks or meals. Putting a water glass on the table makes it easier for the child to take a drink.
  • Don’t wait until your child is thirsty. Teach children to sip water throughout the day and take a drink from water fountains at school, the park, the mall or other public places whenever possible.
  • Reduce servings of salty foods. Look for low-sodium or no-salt-added labels when buying groceries. If your kids are French fry crazy try making your own from fresh potatoes, baking them and serving them without salt.
  • Don’t add extra salt to meals or side dishes. Your children get more than enough salt from the foods they eat every day.

Teach your children to make healthy nutrition decisions that will last a lifetime – including drinking plenty of fat-free, no-cal drinking water.

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Felix Ramirez-Seijas, MD, is director of the Division of Nephrology at Miami Children’s Hospital.