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Consumer Group Says FDA Failed to Keep Its Word on Studying the Health Risks of Salt

Feb. 24, 2005 -- A consumer group has filed suit against the Food and Drug Administration for failing to make good on a 20-year-old promise to consider regulating salt in the food supply.

Americans continue to consume dangerously high levels of salt despite repeated calls from health authorities and experts to reduce the amount of sodium in their diets.

According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the watchdog group behind the lawsuit, salt consumption for adults in America has drifted upwards over the past three decades. The group estimates that the daily consumption of salt is near 4,000 mg per day -- nearly twice the recommended amount.

In the U.S., poor diet is linked to many major chronic diseases including heart disease and high blood pressure. The 2005 dietary guidelines, to promote health and disease prevention, recommend the amount of salt be limited to about 1 teaspoon a day -- 2,300 mg. However certain groups -- those with high blood pressure, the elderly, and African-Americans -- should limit their intake even more, to 1,500 mg a day.

The CSPI says that packaged food nutrition labels have failed to reduce Americans' sodium intake to recommended levels, and that cutting the nation's sodium intake could substantially reduce the incidence of health problems associated with high blood pressure.

"Those innocent-looking white crystals are causing tens of thousands of premature deaths every year," Michael F. Jacobson, PhD, the group's executive director, told reporters Thursday.

More than 65 million Americans have hypertension, a major cause of heart disease and stroke, according to federal health statistics. Another 45 million have prehypertension, a risk for heart disease. Excessive sodium intake has been identified as a contributor to high blood pressure, and several federal agencies, including the National Institutes of Health, have issued recommendations urging people to lower their sodium consumption.

A study released in the American Journal of Public Health in 2004 estimated that blood pressure reductions -- attainable by halving individual sodium consumption -- could prevent 150,000 deaths per year.

Jacobson contends that packaged food labeling required by law since 1994 has helped Americans moderate their sodium intake, but that food companies and restaurants continue to have high salt levels that make it difficult for most Americans to meet recommendations.

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