April 20, 2010— -- An Institute of Medicine report that urges the government to set limits on the amount of salt in processed foods could spur a new wave of food regulation -- one that could save hundreds of thousands of American lives from heart attack and stroke, doctors say.
The new report calls on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to regulate the amount of salt added to foods and gradually decrease sodium content as American palettes adjust to the change.
The authors of the report said such industry-wide regulation -- which they suggest could take place gradually, to allow consumer tastes to adjust -- will be necessary to cut salt consumption among the general public, as education campaigns have not worked.
"There have now been three of four analyses done differently about this, but have all reached the same conclusion -- if you reduce sodium, you'll be healthier," said Dr. Lawrence Appel, a professor at Johns Hopkins and a member of the IOM committee that drafted the report. "This is the first report that provides a roadmap on how to actually accomplish the reduction."
Physicians applauded the report.
"I think the impact could be considerable," said Dr. Howard Weintraub, clinical director of the New York University Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease at the NYU Langone Medical Center. "When you think about it, the major cause of death in this country is cardiovascular disease... Decreasing the number of cardiovascular events in this way is a move that costs the government not a penny, and it will not make the American public feel as if they are inhibited or being subjected to a culinary concentration camp."
"We have known for years from scientific studies about the conditions that are brought about by excess sodium consumption, like heart attack and stroke, so there is no controversy there," said Dr. Sharonne Hayes, director of the Mayo Clinic Women's Heart Clinic in Rochester, Minn. "There is no controversy about how reducing sodium levels in the diet can also reduce these events."