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Original Investigation | Health Care Reform

Changes in Sodium Levels in Processed and Restaurant Foods, 2005 to 2011

Michael F. Jacobson, PhD1; Stephen Havas, MD, MPH, MS2; Robert McCarter, ScD3
[+] Author Affiliations
1Center for Science in the Public Interest, George Washington University School of Medicine and Children’s National Medical Center, Washington DC
2Division of Biostatistics and Study Methodology, George Washington University School of Medicine and Children’s National Medical Center, Washington, DC
3Department of Preventive Medicine, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, Illinois
JAMA Intern Med. 2013;173(14):1285-1291. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.6154.
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Importance  Excess consumption of sodium is an important cause of hypertension, a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. The higher the level of consumption, the greater is a person’s likelihood of developing hypertension. Numerous organizations have recommended reductions in sodium intake in the United States. Roughly 80% of the sodium consumed by Americans has been added by food manufacturers and restaurants.

Objective  To compare the mean (SD) levels of sodium for identical products ascertained in 2005, 2008, and 2011.

Design and Setting  Comparison study in an academic research setting.

Participants and Exposures  Center for Science in the Public Interest staff have monitored sodium levels in selected processed foods and fast-food restaurant foods for many years.

Main Outcomes and Measures  The sodium content in identical foods, as measured in 2005, 2008, and 2011.

Results  Between 2005 and 2011, the sodium content in 402 processed foods declined by approximately 3.5%, while the sodium content in 78 fast-food restaurant products increased by 2.6%. Although some products showed decreases of at least 30%, a greater number of products showed increases of at least 30%. The predominant finding is the absence of any appreciable or statistically significant changes in sodium content during 6 years.

Conclusions and Relevance  Based on our sample, reductions in sodium levels in processed and restaurant foods are inconsistent and slow. These findings are in accord with other data indicating the slow pace of voluntary reductions in sodium levels in processed and restaurant foods. Stronger action (eg, phased-in limits on sodium levels set by the federal government) is needed to lower sodium levels and reduce the prevalence of hypertension and cardiovascular diseases.

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Changes in Sodium Levels in Processed and Restaurant Food, 2005-2011

One extreme point, denoting a rise in sodium level above 200%, was removed to avoid distortion.

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Submit a Comment
Nannie State
Posted on July 30, 2013
Lawrence J. Drexler, M.D.
Private Practice
Conflict of Interest: None Declared
In your article "Changes in Sodium Levels in Processed and Restaurant Foods," you concluded, "Stronger action (eg, phased in limits on sodium levels set by the federal government) is needed to lower sodium levels and reduce the prevalence of hypertension and cardiovascular diseases."Just for your information, there are those of us who do not want to live in a Nannie State, least of all one run by our federal government.
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