New York leads plan to cut salt intake and save 0.8m lives

By Mike Stones

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags New york city

New York City is leading a partnership of cities and national health organizations to promote a voluntary program of salt reduction in packaged and restaurant foods.

The campaign aims to curb the amount of salt in packaged and restaurant food by 25 percent over the next five years. The result would be to cut the nation’s salt intake by 20 percent and prevent up to 800,000 premature deaths/year nationwide and 23,000 deaths in New York City alone, it claims. The sodium in salt is a major contributor to high blood pressure, which in turn causes heart attack and stroke, the nation’s leading causes of preventable death.

Although Americans consume about twice the recommended limit of salt each day, only 11 percent of sodium in the national diet comes from saltshakers; nearly 80 percent is added to foods before purchase.

Dr Thomas Farley, New York City Health Commissioner, said: “Consumers can always add salt to food, but they can’t take it out. At current levels, the salt in our diets poses health risks for people with normal blood pressure, and it’s even riskier for the 1.5m New Yorkers with high blood pressure.

More choice

“If we can reduce the sodium levels in packaged and restaurant foods, we will give consumers more choice about the amount of salt they eat, and reduce their risk of heart disease and stroke in the process.”

The National Salt Reduction Initiative has developed targets to help companies reduce the salt levels in 61 categories of packaged food and 25 classes of restaurant food.

The initiative includes two-year and four-year targets for each category of food and is said to allow some flexibility in salt thresholds. For example, a company selling three lines of crackers could keep one type extra salty provided its cracker portfolio met the target for crackers.

The recommended daily limit for sodium intake is 1,500 mg for most adults and 2,300 mg for others but some foods, such as deli-meat sandwiches, include that much sodium in one serving. Much of the salt in Americans’ diets comes from breads, muffins and other foods that don’t taste salty.

After seeking responses to the salt reduction proposals this month, the Health Department plans to adopt final targets this spring.

Meanwhile, 17 national and international health organizations and 26 cities, including Los Angeles and Seattle, are supporting the initiative.

Michael Jacobson, executive director of Center for Science in the public interest said: “Reducing sodium levels in packaged and restaurant foods could save thousands of lives a year in New York City alone​.

Achievable targets

Food companies should cooperate with New York City authorities and set achievable targets to reduce salt nationwide. If companies don’t cooperate, they can expect other state and local governments, and perhaps at long last, the Food and Drug Administration, to begin regulating in this area​.”

Dr Clyde Yancy, president, American Heart Association, said: “The association applauds the efforts of the National Salt Reduction Initiative to proceed with this carefully focused effort to reduce sodium in prepared foods​.”

Dr James Rohack, president of the American Medical Association added: “The AMA has long supported a reduction of sodium in processed foods, fast food products and restaurant meals as a means to lower sodium intake and reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease among Americans.”

Previously, New York became the first US city to require chain restaurant menus to specify calories and to phase out the use of artificial trans fats in all restaurants.

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