Shakeup for the food industry

In an effort to reduce the burden of heart disease and stroke, the American Medical Association (AMA) today testified to the FDA urging immediate action to reduce excess salt in food. The AMA asked the FDA to set strict limits on salt in processed foods and work to better educate the public on the benefits of a low-sodium diet. Americans typically consume about 4,000 milligrams of sodium every day, whereas the National Academy of Sciences recommends that adults consume no more than 2,300 milligrams, roughly the amount in a teaspoon of salt. For people at higher risk for high blood pressure, including those over 50 and African Americans, the recommendation is lower at 1,500 milligrams.

"The need for immediate action is clear," says Stephen Havas, MD, MPH, MS, and AMA vice president for science, quality, and public health. "The deaths attributed to excess salt consumption represent a huge toll, the equivalent of a jumbo jet with more than 400 passengers crashing every day of the year, year after year."

And he adds, "Excess sodium greatly increases the chance of developing hypertension, heart disease, and stroke. Research shows most Americans consume two to three times the amount of sodium that is healthy, with an estimated 75 to 80 percent of the daily intake of sodium coming from processed and restaurant foods. Reducing the salt in our diets by 50 percent over the next 10 years could save at least 150,000 lives each year."

Blaming the industry, Havas says, "Americans don't consume large amounts of salt because they request it, but often do so unknowingly because manufacturers and restaurants put it in food. The FDA has an opportunity to inform the public of the hazards of salt through better labeling and provide increased incentives for the industry to reduce the amount of salt added to food." Havas suggests the U.S. should follow the lead of countries such as Finland and the UK who have taken action on salt, and seen promising results. AMA recommends the following: 
  • The FDA revoke the "generally recognized as safe" (GRAS) status of salt and develop regulatory measures to limit sodium in processed and restaurant foods.
  • The FDA and manufacturers work toward a minimum of a 50 percent reduction in the amount of sodium in processed foods, fast food products and restaurant meals over the next decade.
  • Interested stakeholders establish partnerships to educate consumers about the benefits of long-term, moderate reductions in sodium intake.
  • The FDA improve labeling to assist consumers in understanding the amount of sodium contained in processed food products and develop label markings and warnings for foods high in sodium.
"The AMA is confident the implementation of these recommendations would reduce sodium intake, result in a better educated consumer, and eventually lower the incidence of hypertension and cardiovascular disease in this country, saving countless lives," concludes Havas.   "For the first time in 25 years, the FDA is showing an interest in lowering sodium levels in the food supply," says Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the consumer group that petitioned the agency to take action.