The warnings next to all the high-sodium items on chain restaurant menus in New York City are here to stay.
The legal battle over the city’s rule on excessively salty items has ended after the National Restaurant Association dropped its challenge to the warnings.
The organization declined to comment on its decision on Thursday, but the New York health department, which approved the warning requirement, hailed the end of the legal wrangling.
“It’s a fact that high sodium intake can increase blood pressure and risk of heart disease and stroke, and the sodium warning rule allows New Yorkers to make informed decisions about the food they eat,” Mary T. Bassett, the city’s health commissioner, said in a statement. “I am proud of the Board of Health’s work and commitment to protecting and promoting the health of New Yorkers.”
Public health advocates also celebrated.
“This finally puts to rest more than a year of unnecessary debate that stood in the way of patrons of certain New York chain restaurants being informed of the high sodium content in their foods choices,” said Nancy Brown, chief executive of the American Heart Association, one of several health organizations backing the measure.
New York leads the way
In 2015, New York became the first city in the country requiring restaurants with at least 15 locations nationwide to flag its high-sodium menu items with a salt shaker icon.
The warnings must be placed next to any menu item with more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium, which is roughly a teaspoon of salt and the daily limit suggested by the federal government.
The National Restaurant Association sued to halt the rule, calling it “arbitrary and capricious” and initially kept it from being enacted for months.
Many chain restaurants altered their menus anyway, adding the warnings even before state courts eventually ruled that the mandate was legal.
About 3,300 chain restaurants are subject to the sodium rule, which the city began enforcing last June. Violators receive a $200 fine.
In February, a New York appeals court ruled in favor of the city, agreeing with a lower court that the Board of Health “did not exceed their authority” by adopting the warning rule.
After losing that appeal, the restaurant group said it planned to explore its legal options but the organization failed to file an appeal by Wednesday’s deadline.
More than 80 percent of the affected restaurants were in the compliance as of March 29, according to the health department.
A nationwide initiative
The city said it has shared details of its sodium warning efforts with dozens of other jurisdictions through its National Salt Reduction Initiative, a partnership involving more than 100 state and local health authorities and national health organizations.
“Now that we know these helpful menu warnings are here to stay, we hope that public health departments around the country will replicate the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s effort to protect the public from excess salt,” said Michael Jacobson, co-founder and president of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
“While salt is so familiar and seemingly harmless, cutting sodium consumption in half would save as many as 100,000 lives per year.”
Research has shown that excess sodium contributes to high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke – the two leading causes of death in the world.
Americans on average eat nearly double the amount of daily-recommended sodium.
The sodium warning is among numerous health battles being waged in New York that have caught national attention.
In 2006, the city voted to ban trans fats in restaurants.
It also amended the health code to require chains to post calorie counts.
In 2012, the city also proposed a ban on sugary drink sales larger than 16 ounces, but the state’s high court struck down the measure.