The initiative was developed in conjunction with national health organizations over the past two years, in order to set targets for sodium reduction in packaged foods, which are estimated to contribute about 75 percent of the average American’s sodium intake. Industry was invited to comment on the proposed targets in January.
The National Salt Reduction Initiative intends to monitor sodium levels in 62 categories of packaged food and 25 categories of restaurant food, and to hold industry accountable for meeting those targets. The sixteen companies that signed up to the program yesterday include some key players in the industry, such as Kraft, Unilever, Heinz, and McCain Foods.
Sodium is a major contributor to high blood pressure, which can lead to heart attack and stroke. These diseases cause around 23,000 deaths a year in New York City, and more than 800,000 nationwide, deaths that state officials claim could be prevented by reducing sodium consumption.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said: "By working together over the past two years, we have been able to accomplish something many said was impossible; setting concrete, achievable goals for salt reduction.”
He added that the initiative has the potential to cut tens of thousands of deaths from cardiovascular disease in the coming years.
Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Linda Gibbs said: "Until the National Salt Reduction Initiative was created, there wasn't a platform for public and private organizations to develop solutions to this major heath issue. And while we certainly will continue to expand this program, we have taken a very important step forward in helping people live longer, healthier lives."
Last week, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) published a report on US sodium intake, in which it urged the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to take regulatory action to reduce sodium in the nation’s food. New York officials point out that the report also said that public-private partnerships can "achieve meaningful reductions in sodium intake prior to the implementation of mandatory standards."
And health authorities have expressed their support for the program. FDA deputy commissioner Joshua Sharfstein wrote in an open letter: “We are encouraged by voluntary efforts, including the National Salt Reduction Initiative. Such efforts are very important to making progress on this public health issue."
According to figures from the US Department of Agriculture, Americans currently consume about 4,000mg of sodium a day – far more than the limit recommended by public health experts, of 2,300mg. The IOM and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put average consumption at 3,400mg a day, or about 50 percent more than the recommended maximum.
The National Salt Reduction Initiative partnership now includes 18 national health organizations, 29 cities, states and related entities, and the 16 food companies that committed to the program yesterday. The companies involved are: Au Bon Pain, Boar's Head, FreshDirect, Goya, Hain Celestial, Heinz, Kraft, LiDestri, Mars Food, McCain Foods, Red Gold, Starbucks, Subway, Unilever, Uno Chicago Grill and White Rose.