September 10, 2009

High Salt Intake Costs Billions

A new study says that cases of high blood pressure amongst Americans could be greatly reduced if they would only consume recommended levels of salt, not to mention the billions of dollars that would be saved on health care costs.

Reuters reported that a diet high in sodium can contribute to high blood pressure, which leads to heart and kidney disease.

The Institute of Medicine recommends that adults consume no more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day. However, the average American generally consumed about 1,000 mg over the recommended level, according to the authors of the study in the American Journal of Health Promotion.

The new study involved investigators at the non-profit research organization RAND calculating the potential health and financial benefits that could be gained by people reducing their average sodium intake to 2,300 mg.

Both Kartika Palar, a doctoral fellow at RAND in Santa Monica, California, and Dr. Roland Sturm came to this conclusion by using data from a government health survey conducted between 1999 and 2004. The survey also contained information on sodium intake, blood pressure and medication use.

According to the researchers' estimation, there would be 11 million less cases of high blood pressure each year if the average sodium intake were dropped to the recommended level of 2,300 mg per day.

The costs of treating high blood pressure and related heart disease and strokes would decrease by $18 billion, and reducing sodium intake to 1,500 mg, could save $26 billion.

Though cutting back on sodium sounds easy, it proves to be quite difficult for people to follow through with, wrote the researchers.

This is due to the fact that an overwhelming amount of the sodium Americans consume is not from what they add themselves, but from pre-packaged foods and meals eaten outside of the home.

This being said, it would be a good idea to seek ways to cut sodium from processed foods and restaurant menus, which would affect widespread sodium consumption, Palar told Reuters Health in an email.

"Reading labels is one solution to reducing the amount of sodium consumed via processed foods, but this solution isn't available at most restaurants," Palar said.

She noted that while it is important to read food labels, it only does consumers good if there are readily available lower-sodium alternatives.

While such drastic changes could be greatly helped by changes in the food supply, the consumer ultimately is the one that can make the biggest difference, says Palar. Americans should pay closer attention to product labels, even the seemingly "healthy" foods that boast low sugar, far and calorie levels, while being loaded with sodium.


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