Industry News | March 20, 2009

Experts Call on Collective Action to Combat Salt

With nine in 10 Americans developing high blood pressure in their lifetimes, food and health experts will debate the connection between salt and high blood pressure and how much salt should be in processed food during a panel today at the 7th National Forum on Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention.

Americans should consume about 2,300 milligrams of salt daily, according to federal guidelines. And those at risk--African-Americans, middle-aged, and older adults--should consume no more than 1,500 milligrams a day.

However, the typical citizen eats about two to three times that amount each day, the American Medical Association says. And about 75 percent of that salt intake comes from processed food, according to the Department of Agriculture. (About 10 percent comes from the shaker and another 10 percent is naturally in the foods.)

"Most Americans would be surprised to find that there could be more sodium in the pancakes they eat for breakfast than in a bag of potato chips," according to a public comment issued by the National Forum. The National Forum wrote to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, petitioning the agency to revise salt's status and establish food labeling requirements.

The panel, held on the campus of George Washington University, will bring together experts from all sides of the table: Mark Schoeberl, chair of the National Forum, Dr. Darwin Labarthe, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention, and Robert Earl, vice president of science policy of the Grocery Manufacturer's Association.

"No one organization or individual can do this alone," Schoeberl says. "We have the opportunity ... to expand and grow successful collaborations that can confront and overcome the tremendous challenges we continue to face on our journey toward a heart-healthy and stroke-free society."

The panel, on the last day of the three-day forum, entitled "Seizing Opportunities," will be followed by a private meeting between public health and food industry leaders, seeking common ground.

According to the American Medical Association, as many as 150,000 early deaths might be saved annually if consumers reduced their salt intake by half. Because sodium raises blood pressure - which in turn increases the risk of heart disease and strokes - less salt could mean longer lives for many.

The National Forum was established in 2003 to provide a comprehensive public health strategy and a framework to guide health practitioners' and policy makers' actions in heart disease and stroke prevention. It is a partnership of more than 80 national and international organizations working to implement the Public Health Action Plan to Prevent Heart Disease and Stroke.

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