US FDA issues draft guidance to food industry for voluntarily reducing sodium in processed and commercially prepared food
Americans consume almost 50 percent more sodium than what most experts recommend. One in three individuals has high blood pressure, which has been linked to diets high in sodium and is a major risk factor cause of heart disease and stroke. That number climbs to one in two African Americans and even includes one in 10 children aged 8-17. While a majority of Americans reports watching or trying to reduce added salt in their diets, the deck has been stacked against them. The majority of sodium intake comes from processed and prepared foods, not the salt shaker.
The science supporting the relationship between sodium reduction and health is clear: When sodium intake increases, blood pressure increases, and high blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke – two leading causes of death in the U.S. (CDC has compiled a number of key studies, which continue to support the benefits of sodium reduction in lowering blood pressure. In some of these studies, researchers have estimated lowering U.S. sodium intake by about 40 percent over the next decade could save 500,000 lives and nearly $100 billion in healthcare costs.)
“Many Americans want to reduce sodium in their diets, but that’s hard to do when much of it is in everyday products we buy in stores and restaurants,” HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell said. “Today’s announcement is about putting power back in the hands of consumers, so that they can better control how much salt is in the food they eat and improve their health.”
The FDA is especially encouraging adoption by food manufacturers whose products make up a significant portion of national sales in one or more categories and restaurant chains that are national and regional in scope. The FDA estimates that less than 10 percent of packaged foods account for more than 80 percent of sales. According to the USDA’s Economic Research Service, about 50 percent of every food dollar goes to food consumed outside the home. Therefore the draft voluntary guidance also covers common foods served in restaurants and other food service establishments.
“The totality of the scientific evidence supports sodium reduction from current intake levels,” said Susan Mayne, Ph.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “Experts at the Institute of Medicine have concluded that reducing sodium intake to 2,300 mg per day can significantly help Americans reduce their blood pressure and ultimately prevent hundreds of thousands of premature illnesses and deaths. Because the majority of sodium in our diets comes from processed and prepared foods, consumers are challenged in lowering their sodium intake themselves.”
Included in the draft guidance is a common system for defining and measuring progress on reducing sodium in the U.S. food supply. The approach is to establish reasonable, voluntary reduction targets for the majority of processed and prepared foods, placing foods in nearly150 categories from bakery products to soups. The draft targets factor in data on consumer preferences, as well as current industry efforts to reduce sodium. The FDA is confident that the short-term targets, which seek to decrease sodium intake to about 3,000 mg per day, are readily achievable. In fact, many foods, such as top-selling pretzel products, have already met the short-term target.
The FDA has proposed a national, practical, gradual, and voluntary approach to sodium reduction and is sharing it as a draft for public comment. The FDA’s draft guidance proposes feasible reductions across a broad range of food categories with high and moderate amounts of sodium. This approach is expected to achieve significant reductions in sodium while providing flexibility for industry and more choices for consumers.
“We believe that the time is now to engage in a national dialogue on the problem of excess sodium. Publishing these targets is an important step in that dialogue,” added Dr. Mayne.
The FDA encourages feedback from stakeholders on this draft guidance during the 90- and 150-day comment periods.
The FDA, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, protects the public health by assuring the safety, effectiveness, and security of human and veterinary drugs, vaccines and other biological products for human use, and medical devices. The agency also is responsible for the safety and security of our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, dietary supplements, products that give off electronic radiation, and for regulating tobacco products.