Salt Shakedown: Institute of Medicine Urges FDA to Regulate Sodium

So far, the FDA has said it is not currently working on regulations, nor has it made a decision to regulate sodium content in foods yet.

"Over the coming weeks, the FDA will more thoroughly review the recommendations of the IOM report and build plans for how the FDA can continue to work with other federal agencies, public health and consumer groups, and the food industry to support the reduction of sodium levels in the food supply," the agency said in a statement. "The Department of Health and Human Services will be establishing an interagency working group on sodium at the Department that will review options and next steps."

The IOM says evidence shows that "a decrease in sodium can be accomplished successfully without affecting consumer enjoyment of food products if it is done in a stepwise process that systematically and gradually lowers sodium levels across the food supply."

Will Industry Push Back Against Regulation?

The report is not the first time that the amount of salt in processed food has been thrown into the spotlight. Most recently, a study in January by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, suggested that trimming salt intake by a teaspoon a day could prevent 32,000 strokes and 54,000 heart attacks a year. Other studies have estimated that population-wide reductions in sodium could prevent more than 100,000 deaths annually.

Because much of Americans' salt intake comes from high concentrations in processed foods and foods prepared in restaurants, consumer organizations like CSPI have long pushed for regulation of sodium levels in these foods.

"Limiting salt in packaged and restaurant foods is perhaps the single most important thing that the Food and Drug Administration could do to save hundreds of thousands of lives and save billions of dollars in health-care expenses," said CSPI executive director Michael Jacobson. "The FDA and U.S. Department of Agriculture should quickly implement the Institute of Medicine's recommendations, starting with mandatory limits on salt, which could be phased in gradually over time."

Meanwhile, some local governments have launched efforts to decrease sodium consumption and raise awareness. New York City, for example, has asked food manufacturers and chain restaurants to reduce sodium by 25 percent in their products over the next five years.

Regardless, many said a certain amount of industry pushback against and broad regulation is to be expected.

"There's probably going to be resistance from the manufacturers, as industry in general is usually resistant to changes," said Dr. Charles Mouton, professor and Chair of the Department of Community Health and Family Practice at Howard University College of Medicine in Washington, D.C.

Appel, however, said that some in the sector may even support the limits.

"There will be pushback, but since the evidence is strong, there is going to be less pushback than you think," he said. "I can see some pushback from industries saying we don't want to do it, but other industries will be saying, 'Health care costs are going through the roof, and this could save us several billions of dollars on health care.'"

Industry-Wide Salt Regulation Could Gain Support

Hayes said that making the regulation an industry-wide initiative could lead to greater acceptance.

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