The New York City Health Department has announced that it is coordinating a nationwide effort to aid heart attack and stroke prevention by reducing the amount of salt in packaged and restaurant foods.
The National Salt Reduction Initiative, a coalition of cities, states and health organizations working to help food manufacturers and restaurants voluntarily reduce the amount of salt in their products, plans to reduce Americans' salt intake by 20 percent over five years. The initiative is targeting packaged and restaurant foods because nearly 80 percent of sodium in Americans' diets is added to foods before they are sold.
After a year of technical consultation with food industry leaders, the NSRI has developed specific targets to help companies reduce the salt levels in 61 categories of packaged food and 25 classes of restaurant food. The New York City Health Department will solicit additional comments on the targets this month, including from the foodservice industry, and the initiative will adopt final targets this spring. The health department Web site includes a form that interested parties can use to provide technical comments.
The goal of the initiative is to cut the salt in packaged and restaurant foods by 25 percent over five years – an achievement that would reduce the nation's salt intake by 20 percent and ultimately contribute to the prevention of thousands of premature deaths. The sodium in salt is a major contributor to high blood pressure, which in turn causes heart attack and stroke. These conditions cause 23,000 deaths in New York City alone each year – more than 800,000 nationwide – and cost Americans billions in healthcare expenses, according to the news release.
Proposed targets for the restaurant industry include reducing sodium in a variety of menu items, such as hamburgers, chicken, pizza, sandwiches and breakfast foods. For example, the NSRI calls for the sodium in plain hamburgers to be cut from an average of 403 milligrams to 380 by 2012 and 330 by 2014.
The initiative includes voluntary two-year and four-year targets for average salt levels in each category of food. Companies that sign onto the initiative pledge that its overall sales in a given category - canned soup, for example - will meet the relevant target for salt content, even if some individual products don't. The proposed targets are posted at the New York City Health Department Web site on the Proposed Targets for Restaurant Foods link.
The NSRI is modeled on a similar program in the United Kingdom, where food makers have reduced salt levels by 40 percent or more in some products. Canada, Australia, Finland, France, Ireland, and New Zealand have also launched national initiatives to help reduce the salt in food.
NSRI member organizations include health departments from major cities across the country as well as health groups, including the American Heart Association.