Slashing sodium could save $18bn in health care costs, says study

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Hypertension

Reducing US sodium consumption to recommended levels could prevent 11 million cases of high blood pressure and save as much as $18bn a year in health care costs, according to a new study from RAND Health.

Americans currently consume an average of 4000mg of sodium a day, far more than the 2,300mg recommended by the Institute of Medicine. Even less is advised for at-risk groups, such as older adults, blacks, and those who already have high blood pressure. The health effects of excessive sodium consumption have been well-researched, including its contribution to high blood pressure – the treatment of which costs around $55bn a year – as well as cardiovascular disease and stroke.

This new study, published in the latest issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion,​ claims that $18bn of this cost could be slashed if sodium consumption were in line with dietary guidelines, while extending the lives of thousands of people every year.

Lead author Kartika Palar said: “Our results are driven by the fact that nearly 30 percent of the nation's population has hypertension. One of the reasons that hypertension is so pervasive is that sodium consumption is so high…These findings make a strong case that there's value in pursuing a population-based approach to reducing sodium intake among Americans."

Food industry moves

Studies have shown that 70 to 80 percent of sodium comes from processed foods, rather than salt added at the table, and food manufacturers, largely on the back of consumer demand, have been making efforts to cut sodium content. However, the challenge for manufacturers in reducing sodium is often twofold: While salt plays a role in consumer acceptance of a product’s taste, it is also functional for many foods, acting as a preservative or as an inhibitor for leavening agents.

The researchers wrote: “Population-based strategies that have been discussed include redesigning food labeling information to better highlight sodium levels, having manufacturers voluntarily lower sodium levels and adopting regulations that would require food processors to lower sodium.”

Method

The researchers used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which uses a combination of interviews and medical examinations in order to assess the health and nutritional status of US adults. Based on this, they estimated medical costs for treating hypertension, although they did not calculate costs that would be avoided by resultant lower rates of cardiovascular disease.

According to market research organization Mintel, the low-sodium drive is gaining momentum. Its Global New Products Database shows that introductions of food products making a low, no or reduced sodium claim increased 115 percent from 2005 to 2008.

Source: American Journal of Health Promotion

Sept/Oct 2009, Vol. 24, I1, 49.

"Potential Societal Savings From Reduced Sodium Consumption in the US Adult Population"

Authors: K. Palar and R. Sturm

Related topics: R&D

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