Two new studies indicate little progress in sodium levels in food, and Americans' sodium consumption levels.
First, a study conducted by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and published in JAMA International Medicine reports that the average sodium content in 402 packaged foods decreased by just 3.5% between 2005 and 2011.
Although some of the products decreased sodium by as much as 30%, most increased their sodium by at least 30%.
In addition, CSPI found that 78 menu items at chain restaurants increased their sodium levels by 2.6% during the same period.
Separately, the federal government's Institute of Medicine (IOM) released a study that concludes that despite public health efforts over the past several decades to encourage Americans to consume less sodium, adults still consume an average of 3,400 milligrams per day, well above the current federal guideline of 2,300 milligrams or less daily. Evidence has shown that reducing sodium intake reduces blood pressure and the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke, according to IOM. IOM also reported that some recent research suggests that sodium intakes that are too low may also increase health risks, particularly in certain groups.
The Centers for Disease Control asked the IOM to examine the designs, methodologies, and conclusions in the latest body of research on dietary sodium intake and health outcomes in the general U.S. population and among individuals with hypertension; pre-hypertension; those 51 years of age and older; African-Americans; and those with diabetes, chronic kidney disease, and congestive heart failure. The IOM committee also was asked to comment on the implications of this new evidence for population-based strategies to gradually reduce sodium intake and to identify gaps in data and research and suggest ways to address them.
CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson, who authored the CSPI study with colleagues, asserted that "the strategy of relying on the food industry to voluntarily reduce sodium has proven to be a public health disaster," and called for the Food and Drug Administration to mandate that the food industry lower sodium levels.
Commenting on the IOM study, Jacobson noted that while the IOM committee found too little evidence to say whether the safest sodium intake (the "green zone") is below 2,300 milligrams a day or below 1,500, "What the committee failed to emphasize is that most Americans are deep into the 'red zone,' consuming 3,500 to 4,000 milligrams of sodium per day."
"It’s clear that those excessive levels increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart attacks, and strokes," Jacobson said.
"Whether we aim for 2,300 or 1,500 milligrams a day is irrelevant until we move down out of the red zone."