By Karen Kaplan
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
1:03 PM PDT, March 23, 2010
What will it take to get Americans — and the food industrial complex — to get serious about taking some of the salt out of our diets?
In September, a study in the American Journal of Health Promotion calculated that Americans could eliminate 11 million cases of hypertension, save $18 billion in medical costs and add 312,000 years to our collective lives by reducing our daily sodium intake from about 3,300 milligrams per day to the recommended daily maximum of 2,300 milligrams.
In January, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded that excising 1,200 milligrams of sodium from our daily diets would prevent up to 120,000 cases of cardiovascular disease, 66,000 strokes, 99,000 heart attacks and reduce annual deaths from any cause by as much as 92,000. That study found that the cost savings would add up to as much as $24 billion and save as many as 392,000 years of life.
Still not convinced? Researchers from the Stanford University School of Medicine and the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System recently entered the fray with their own analysis.
They used a computer model to estimate what would what happen if U.S. consumers and food makers copied a British salt-reduction campaign. Their conclusions: Americans age 40 to 85 would cut their salt intake by 9.5%, preventing strokes in 513,885 people and heart attacks in 480,358 others. Total savings to the healthcare system would top $32 billion, according to their study, published March 1 in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.
They also ran a computer model using another popular idea — a sin tax aimed at salt. The hypothetical salt tax was less effective, cutting salt intake by only 6% and preventing 327,892 strokes and 306,173 heart attacks. The researchers said they thought the salt tax was less feasible than voluntary efforts by the food industry to cut sodium in their products.
The researchers also noted that cutting back on salt could have the unintended consequence of motivating consumers to eat more foods made with fat and sugar, which present their own health risks.
For those who are motivated to cut some of the salt out of their diets — or at least give it a try — the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute offers a list of tips at http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/hbp/prevent/sodium/tips.htm.
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