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NYC Announces Initiative to Reduce Salt in Foods

New York City continues to lead the way in the effort to increase food content transparency and assist consumers in obtaining access to and choosing healthier food options. In the past decade, the New York City mayor's office has prohibited indoor smoking, forced restaurants to post calorie counts of their food items offered, and banned trans fats from the city entirely.

Today, the New York City Health Department announced the National Salt Reduction Initiative, a partnership of cities, states, and national health organizations who have come together to guide a voluntary reduction in salt levels in packaged and restaurant foods across the United States. The stated goal of the Initiative, which is led by the New York City government, is to cut the salt content in packaged and restaurant foods by 25% during the next five years.

Salt is used to enhance the flavor of foods and acts as a preservative for many types of food. It's used almost indiscriminately in the food production and packaging industries: according to the NYC Health Department, nearly 80% of the average American's salt intake has been added to food before it is sold – a staggering amount that suggests Americans' overindulgence in salt may be, to some extent, beyond their control. And the amount of salt we eat can have intense adverse effects on our long-term health. According to Dr. J. James Rohack, president of the American Medical Association (AMA), "excess sodium greatly increases the chance of developing hypertension, heart disease, and stroke. Dr. Rohack spoke on behalf of the AMA in a NYC Health Department press release.

The AMA recommends a daily sodium intake limit of about 1,500 mg for the average adult. But according to a report published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the average American consumes closer to 3,500 mg per day. "At current levels, the salt in our diets poses health risks for people with normal blood pressure, and it’s even riskier for [those] with high blood pressure," said Dr. Thomas Farley, New York City Health Commissioner, in a press release. “If we can reduce the sodium levels in packaged and restaurant foods, we will give consumers more choice about the amount of salt they eat and reduce their risk of heart disease and stroke in the process.”

The Initiative has developed a comprehensive framework for companies to reduce the amount of sodium in the foods that they produce. The plan is completely voluntary and includes no legislation. Critics say that without legislation it has little chance of success – the city's campaign against trans fats, for example, was ineffective until legislation to ban trans fats was passed. Nevertheless, similar collaborations and initiatives to fight high sodium content in food in other countries have already produced positive results. The New York Times reports that officials expect the campaign to work through the pressure of public scrutiny.

A number of large food providers have already made statements reflecting their willingness to come on board, including the A&P supermarket chain and the Subway chain of sandwich shops. With many of the major national health organizations committed to the Initiative's goals, many more food producers and providers are expected to join soon.

Written by: Elijah Wolfson

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