Lawsuit Asks FDA to Regulate Salty Foods
Consumer Group Says FDA Failed to Keep Its Word on Studying the Health Risks of Salt
WebMD News Archive
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
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.
Restaurants: How Big a Contribution to Salty Diets?
According to the report, processed foods and restaurant foods contribute
almost 80% of sodium to the diet. Thousands of processed foods, such as frozen
dinners and soups, contain between 500 and 1,000 mg of sodium per serving.
"Considering the ubiquity of salt-laden foods, it's virtually impossible
to consume [the recommended amount in a] diet," he says.
Many companies sell prepared food brands with lowered sodium levels, which
are often more expensive than regular varieties.
The group issued a report highlighting dozens of foods it says are
contributing to overconsumption of salt. For example, a single package of
popular Maruchan Ramen Noodles contains 1,400 mg of sodium, more than half the
recommended level for younger adults. The report also singles out restaurants,
which it says rarely provide nutrition information on menus but use high levels
of salt to flavor foods.