Health Department Announces 5 Year Results of National Salt Reduction Initiative

Food Companies Achieve Modest Sodium Reduction; Opportunity for More Progress through FDA Action
August 23, 2016 – The New York City Health Department today announced that sodium levels decreased in a sample of top selling packaged foods by about 7% from 2009 to the beginning of 2015. The National Salt Reduction Initiative (NSRI) is a coordinated partnership of 100 city and state health authorities and national health organizations that encouraged the food industry to voluntarily and gradually lower sodium in packaged and restaurant foods by 25% over five years. The results show that sodium reformulation is achievable during a short time period and there is opportunity for more progress on sodium reduction. In June 2016, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced draft voluntary guidance to the food industry to lower sodium in foods nationwide. The release of final targets by the FDA is needed for further reductions of sodium in the nation’s food supply.
“Let’s seize this opportunity to extend the success of the National Salt Reduction Initiative,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett. “To achieve a meaningful reduction in population sodium intake, sodium reduction must occur across a wider range of consumer products. We applaud the FDA for proposing sodium reduction targets. Finalizing the FDA targets quickly has the potential to facilitate greater sodium reduction and will prevent thousands of lives from being needlessly lost to heart disease and stroke.”
“It is difficult for consumers to lower their sodium intake when the vast majority of sodium is already in packaged and restaurant food when purchased,” said American Heart Association Chief Executive Officer Nancy Brown. “Consumers deserve to have control over their health. Consumers deserve to have control over their health. The American Heart Association applauds companies that have stepped up to lower sodium in their foods by offering more choices to their customers. To effectively lower sodium intake, all companies need to make similar commitments.”

“Mars Food is committed to inspiring cooking and healthy eating by providing foods that are healthier, easier, more affordable and tastier,” said Caroline Sherman, VP of Corporate Affairs for Mars Food North America. “Mars Food has taken a leadership role within the food industry to lower sodium in our products. Since 2007, we have reduced sodium across our global portfolio by 25% and with our Health & Wellbeing Ambition announced earlier this year, we will reduce sodium by an additional 20% on average in our portfolio by 2021. We appreciate the partnership of groups like the New York City Department of Health and NSRI to encourage others in the industry to make strides in this area as well. The results demonstrate that when industry operates responsibly, voluntary regulations can and do work.”

“The promising results of the National Salt Reduction Initiative (NSRI) represent another step in our efforts to improve the health of our country through the implementation of critical nutritional standards. Working with the food industry to reduce the amount of sodium provides individuals the ability to make better food choices that lead to longer and healthier lives," said State Senator Gustavo Rivera. "While we have made progress, we need to continue working at all levels of government to set nutritional standards, such as the "Happy Meal" bill that I carry in the State Senate, that keep reducing the sodium levels in our food supply."

“The National Salt Reduction Initiative results are measurable proof that we really can reduce sodium intake. Programs like the sodium warning rule New York City adopted in 2015 provide important health information that consumers use. We can do even more to achieve even greater advances for public health,” said Assembly Member Richard N. Gottfried of Manhattan, Chair of the Assembly Committee on Health.

As part of the NSRI, sodium reduction targets were set in 2009, and companies were expected to report progress in 2012 and 2014. In the beginning of 2015, the Health Department reviewed sodium content in thousands of packaged and restaurant food products to determine whether sodium levels changed since the initial sodium targets were set. While no packaged food categories met the targets in 2009, when the initiative launched, 26% of the categories met the 2012 targets and 3% met the 2014 targets by the end of 2014. For restaurants, there was relatively minor progress. Sodium levels changed very little across top chain restaurant foods during the same period. These data are discussed in an article published today in the American Journal of Public Health.
High sodium intake increases blood pressure and the risk of heart disease and stroke. Heart disease and stroke are the first and sixth leading causes of death in NYC. In 2014, nearly 1 in 3 deaths (16,517) in NYC were from heart disease, which is similar to national trends. Despite clear evidence of negative health impacts of consuming too much sodium, the average New Yorker consumes nearly 40% more sodium than the recommended daily limit of 2,300 mg per day and sodium remains ubiquitous in the U.S. food supply. Over 75% of the sodium consumed by Americans comes from packaged and restaurant foods, making it difficult for individuals to lower sodium intake. Sodium added while cooking or at the table accounts for a small amount of total sodium intake.
The NSRI is a nationally coordinated, transparent, and voluntary effort. Almost 30 food companies committed to NSRI targets, including some of the nation’s largest manufacturers, supermarkets, and restaurant chains. The Health Department and its partners encouraged commitments to sodium targets from companies that operate in all sectors of the food industry.

To continue the Health Department’s multipronged approach toward improving the food environment, the NYC Board of Health approved the sodium warning rule in 2015. The sodium warning rule requires chain restaurants to identify menu items that contain more sodium than recommended in an entire day to be identified with an icon and a warning statement. The rule has been implemented since December 2015. Together, the warning icon and statement provide New Yorkers with information necessary to make informed decisions about their diets and their health. The FDA released draft guidance to the food industry for voluntarily reducing sodium in packaged and restaurant foods and is accepting public comments on the guidance.
For additional information, search for “NSRI” or “salt reduction” on or call 311.

Christopher Miller (347) 396-4177