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Logo of bmjThis ArticleThe BMJ
BMJ. 2007 October 6; 335(7622): 692.
PMCID: PMC2001085
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Too much salt takes its toll in the US

The US is lagging behind international efforts to reduce the amount of salt in processed foods and restaurant meals, say health policy experts, and the population is paying a high price. Earlier this year the World Health Organization described as “conclusive” the evidence that excessive dietary sodium causes hypertension. In the US, sodium intake has increased by over 50% since 1970, and the lifetime prevalence of hypertension now approaches 90%. The result is a substantial death toll from cardiovascular disease.

Other countries, notably the UK, Ireland, Finland, and Australia have already made a start by setting national targets, educating the public, and using both carrots and sticks to encourage food manufacturers to comply with voluntary regulations. Better food labelling is one common strategy.

US regulators should follow suit urgently, say the experts, preferably by repealing the Food and Drug Administration's designation of salt as “generally recognized as safe.” If salt lost its privileged status, food manufacturers would have to seek the FDA's approval to add salt to food, and the FDA would have to set agreed limits.

Experts estimate that if Americans ate 50% less sodium, their systolic blood pressure would drop by a collective 5 mm Hg, which would prevent around 150 000 deaths each year from cardiovascular disease


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