Wednesday, April 21, 2010

In a page one story in yesterday’s Washington Post entitled, “FDA plans to limit amount of salt allowed in processed foods for health reason," reporter Lyndsey Layton writes:

“The Food and Drug Administration is planning an unprecedented effort to gradually reduce the salt consumed each day by Americans, saying that less sodium in everything from soup to nuts would prevent thousands of deaths from hypertension and heart disease. The initiative, to be launched this year, would eventually lead to the first legal limits on the amount of salt allowed in food products.

The FDA’s involvement is welcome news. For years public health authorities have cautioned Americans to reduce sodium consumption in order to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke; the nation’s first and third leading causes of death. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 69% of adults in the United States are at “especially high risk for health problems from consuming too much sodium.” You are considered high risk if you are over 40 years of age, African American or have high blood pressure.

But following advice to reduce sodium consumption is tough work. 77 percent of sodium in our diets come from processed and restaurant foods. According to the WPost story the FDA is planning to “analyze the salt in spaghetti sauces, breads and thousands of other products” and (work) “with food manufacturers” to set limits for salt that would be “designed to gradually ratchet down sodium consumption. The changes would be calibrated so that consumers barely notice the modification.” (emphasis added)

A few hours after publication of the story, the Institute of Medicine lifted a media embargo and went public with their much anticipated report “Strategies to Reduce Sodium Intake in the United States.” The report confirms that despite multiple “voluntary efforts to reduce sodium consumption in the United States during the past 40 years, they have not succeeded.”

Much is at stake. According to the IOM, “population-wide reductions in sodium could prevent more than 100,000 deaths annually.”

The heart of the IOM recommendation is a regulatory strategy similar to the approach the Washington Post indicated the FDA was considering. They recommend “the FDA set mandatory national standards for the sodium content in foods – not banning outright the addition of salt to foods but beginning the process of reducing excess sodium in processed foods and menu items to a safer level.” The report emphasized: “It is important that the reduction in sodium content … be carried out gradually, with small reductions instituted regularly as part of a carefully monitored process.”

And good news for food gourmands. The report notes “evidence shows that a decrease in sodium can be accomplished successfully without affecting consumer enjoyment of food products IF IT IS DONE (emphasis added) in a stepwise process that systematically and gradually lowers sodium levels across the food supply.”

On Thursday, April 22,  Partnership will host a briefing (“Reducing Sodium Consumption: Is it time?") on Capitol Hill with the Congressional Prevention Caucus to hear more about the adverse health effects of excessive sodium in the diet. Caucus Co-Chair, Representative Jim Moran (D. VA) will open the briefing which will be moderated by Partnership’s President Rob Gould. The briefing will include presentations by:

  • Darwin Labarthe, MD, MPH, PhD, Director, Division of Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Thomas Farley, MD, MPH, Commissioner, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene
  • Mark Broadhurst, Director, Corporate Affairs and State Public Policy, Mars Food US
  • Suzanne Hughes, RN, MSN, Preventive Cardiovascular Nurses Association
Briefings of the Congressional Prevention Caucus are open to the public. If you are able to attend this event, please email Partnership for Prevention at

E Ripley Forbes
Director, Government Affairs
Partnership for Prevention


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