Lowering sodium intake could lower health costs

U.S. adults consume about 3,400 mg of sodium each day, well above the 2,300 mg recommended by the Institute of Medicine.

By Susan J. Landers — Posted Oct. 1, 2009

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Reducing the nation's collective consumption of sodium could lower medical treatment costs by about $18 billion a year and improve the quality of life for millions of Americans, says a new RAND Corp. study.

The study estimated that meeting national sodium guidelines could eliminate 11 million cases of hypertension and extend the lives of thousands each year. The findings are in the September/October American Journal of Health Promotion (link).

Excessive consumption of sodium is a persistent health problem in the United States, causing increased rates of hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

The Institute of Medicine recommends that healthy adults consume no more than 2,300 mg of sodium each day and that high-risk groups -- including older adults, blacks and those with high blood pressure -- consume less. However, using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, RAND researchers estimate that U.S. adults consume about 3,400 mg of sodium per day.

"Our results were driven by the fact that 30% of the nation's population has hypertension," said lead researcher Kartika Palar, a doctoral fellow at the RAND Pardee Graduate School in Santa Monica, Calif. "One of the reasons that hypertension is so pervasive is that sodium consumption is so high."

The study is among the first to estimate the economic benefits of lowering sodium consumption among Americans, the researchers said. They added that their estimates are conservative because they were not able to calculate savings for illnesses such as cardiovascular diseases, where sodium consumption plays a less-defined role.

The American Medical Association and other groups have long advocated for food labels and restaurant menus to include sodium content to guide people toward healthier choices. In 2006, the AMA adopted policy calling for a minimum 50% reduction, within 10 years, in the amount of sodium in processed foods, fast-food products and restaurant meals. Studies have found that the largest boost in sodium intake can be traced to consumption of processed foods and restaurant meals, rather than from salt added in home-cooked meals.

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