In a new study published in the online edition of the British Medical Journal, researchers write that a 50 percent reduction in daily salt intake “could prevent approximately 100,000 deaths from heart attack and stroke in the United States every year.” Curbing salt intake by that high a margin is certainly a mean feat — but not because Americans are saturating their food with sodium. Rather, study authors suggest that the real culprits are food makers who douse their products with harmful levels of salt.
Results from the controlled study — which measured the blood pressures of 3,000 adults who dramatically curbed their salt intake over the course of a month — indicated an average five point drop in systolic blood pressure, confirming similar findings previously published in the Journal. Last month, Harvard researchers conducting a separate study also found that excess sodium was linked to one in ten American deaths. Since high blood pressure is the number one risk factor associated with heart disease and stroke, the findings suggest that U.S. public health would benefit substantially from lower salt consumption.
But actually achieving a substantial change in sodium intake could be difficult considering that Americans aren’t the ones pumping their meals full of salt — food corporations are. “Eighty percent of the salt that we eat is added by the food industry,” study author and professor of cardiovascular medicine Graham MacGregor told FoxNews.com. Those numbers are borne out by CDC data showing that the vast majority of salt consumption derives from processed foods:
Excess fat, sugar, and salt in cheap and readily available processed foods has put 80 percent of all U.S. teens on track to developing heart disease, increasing national health care expenditures. But food makers use their powerful advertising and lobbying arms to convince politicians not to pass public health initiatives that crack down on the addictive substances in their products.
Not all efforts to curb sodium in processed foods have failed, however. New York City recently ran a successful public health campaign convincing 21 major food companies to voluntarily reduce their use of salt. Still, as this latest study’s findings show, there’s a long way to go before making a dent in Americans’ blood pressures, suggesting that a more efficient route would be for the FDA to crack down on permissible sodium content in mass-produced products. “Many, many thousands of people could be prevented from dying prematurely from strokes and heart attacks, if the food industry acted more responsibly,” MacGregor said.