Excess salt in our diets, particularly from packaged foods and restaurant meals, promotes hypertension, heart attack, and stroke, contributing to on the order of 50,000 to 100,000 deaths each year in the United States. The World Health Organization estimates that approximately 3 million deaths per year globally are attributable to excess sodium. Preventing these needless deaths should be considered an urgent priority for public health officials in the United States and around the world.
That’s why the WHO’s global benchmarks for sodium proposed today for more than 60 food categories are important, timely, and demand the attention of food company executives, health officials and food regulators in the U.S. and abroad.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration should be embarrassed that it has not yet finalized its own voluntary sodium reduction guidelines, proposed in 2016 for more than 150 food categories. In fact, these guidelines were a major building block for the WHO’s benchmarks. A major priority for the Biden administration—which, incidentally, has yet to name a permanent commissioner for FDA—should be to finalize those guidelines and to encourage their adoption by food companies and restaurants.
And the food industry should see the writing on the wall. Responsible manufacturers should act now to bring down sodium to much safer levels.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest is America’s food and health watchdog. www.cspinet.org
Michael F. Jacobson, PhD, is a cofounder of CSPI and the author of Salt Wars: The Battle Over the Biggest Killer in the American Diet.