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Perhaps it is the skyrocketing number of Americans who suffer from high blood pressure, heart attacks, or strokes that contribute to the rising cost of healthcare. While the government hasn’t necessarily come to this conclusion, it has recently decided that Americans consume too much salt and is seeking voluntary reductions by the food industry. In addition, an Institute of Medicine report calls for more immediate and direct action by the Food and Drug Administration.

The FDA will seek immediate voluntary cutbacks from the food industry, but if food manufacturers refuse, the agency may resort to regulating acceptable amounts of sodium in food and beverages. Both public health advocates and scientists alike—who have long warned of the link between high salt intake and dangerous medical conditions—applauded the FDA’s decision. Other groups, such as food industry manufacturers and conservative political groups, argue that reduced sodium in foods is an infringement on personal freedom.

To give you a picture of the current salt intake of Americans, we consume almost 50% more than the roughly 1 teaspoon of salt daily maximum recommended by the federal government’s 2005 Dietary Guidelines. The health cost impact of this high salt intake is alarming: according to a Harvard School of Public Health report, researchers estimated that if dietary sodium consumption declined to the levels recommended by the 2005 guidelines, some 90,000 deaths could be averted each year. Additionally, a RAND Corporation study published in September estimated that reducing American salt intake to recommended levels could save $18 billion a year in treatment for hypertension, stroke, renal disease, and heart failure—all of which are related to excessive salt consumption. Nevertheless, the head of the salt lobby, Lori Ramon, argues that the results from studies such as these are “not scientifically sound” and that the FDA’s moves to reduce salt consumption “could be harming people”.

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