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Cutting salt saves lives and reduces costs

September 10, 2009 | 10:54 am

While we're on the subject of healthcare reform, why doesn't everyone cut back on salt? Wednesday, President Obama outlined his plans to provide better health coverage and cut healthcare costs. But cost-cutting starts at home. A new study published by Rand Corp. researchers concludes that if Americans reduced their salt intake to the recommended maximum amount, hypertension cases could be cut by 11 million with a savings of $18 billion in healthcare costs and 312,000 years of life gained.

Salt The Institute of Medicine recommends adults consume no more than 2,300 milligrams a day of salt. Salt increases blood pressure, which then raises the risk of heart and kidney disease. The average American gets about 1,000 milligrams more than is recommended. In the study, researchers used data from a government survey conducted between 1999 and 2004 about salt intake and other health measures to arrive at their conclusions.

About 70 million Americans have high blood pressure. But cutting salt is difficult to do because it's not just about putting the salt shaker away. Many processed and packaged foods contain high levels of salt -- even foods that are considered lower-calorie or "healthy." People would need to read food labels carefully to make a concerted effort to curb salt intake.

"Restaurant foods also contain high amounts of sodium, as the sodium density of restaurant foods was estimated to be 1,873 mg. per 1,000 calories in 1995," the authors wrote. Policies that improve the clarity of food labels and require restaurants to list nutritional information on their menus are needed to bring down sodium intake, they added. "Without more accessible information, voluntary actions by companies, or government regulation, consumers may have difficulty reducing consumption on their own."

The study is published in the current issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion. For more information on the link between salt and health, see this article by Emily Sohn in the Los Angeles Times' Health section.

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Glenn Koenig  /  Los Angeles Times