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Harkin: Effort to Reduce Americans’ Sodium Intake Will Save Thousands of Lives

IOM Report Lays Out Common Sense Strategies for Reducing Dangerously High Sodium Amounts in Processed Foods

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, today applauded the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) effort to reduce the amount of salt consumed by Americans.  The effort is based on recommendations made in a report released today by the Institute of Medicine (IOM).  Harkin, a national leader on prevention and wellness, requested the report in 2008.  It was produced by an independent committee of experts representing public health, medicine, food chemistry, and the food and restaurant industries.

“Removing the barriers to healthy living leads to longer, healthier lives and lower health care costs down the road,” said Harkin.  “It is difficult for Americans to control the amount of sodium they consume when dangerously high amounts are being added to processed foods.  Nearly 80 percent of our daily sodium intake isn’t added at the table or during cooking – it’s added in processing plants before it ever gets to us.  When sodium is so clearly linked to heart disease and strokes, it’s time to give Americans more information and better control over their daily intake.  This is good common sense and it is a wise investment in our public health too.”

The average American consumes almost double the recommended amount of sodium, which contributes to hypertension, heart attacks, heart disease and strokes.

IOM’s report recommends as a primary strategy for the reduction of sodium that the FDA change the way it regulates sodium in foods.  Specifically, they recommend that the agency identify safe limits for salt added to foods. This would require no additional legislative action.

Until the primary strategy can be implemented, the report recommended continued support for voluntary restrictions by the food industry, even though they admit that they have had limited effects. They also identified several strategies that are necessary to support FDA’s actions:

  • The FDA and USDA should update the nutritional labeling requirements for sodium to reflect the new Adequate Intake for sodium, both for food products and for restaurant items.
  • Congress should remove the exemption of nutritional labeling for food products intended solely for use in restaurant/food service operations.
  • Food retailers, restaurant/foodservice, governments, businesses, and institutions should establish sodium specifications for foods they purchase and food operations they oversee.
  • HHS, in cooperation with other key stakeholders, should implement a national campaign to reduce sodium intake.

National surveys and other monitoring conducted by the CDC, FDA, and USDA should be enhanced to better monitor sodium intake.