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March 1st, 2010
05:46 PM ET

Decrease sodium intake by 10 percent, save a million U.S. lives

By Madison Park
CNNHealth.com Writer-Producer

Reducing the U.S. population’s sodium intake by 9.5 percent could reduce nearly half a million strokes and heart attacks over the lifetime of adults, according to a new research from Stanford University.

“The purpose of the study is to look at whether small reductions in sodium intake are worthwhile,” said the study author, Dr. Crystal Smith-Spangler.  “Do they result in decreases in blood pressure, changes in death rates from heart attacks and strokes?  Is it worth enough to do?”

Smith-Spangler and fellow researchers created a model to simulate the effect of reducing sodium intake in a population of people between the ages of 40 and 85. This would result in a significant blood pressure improvement. Then, they calculated that this effect could save $32.1 billion in medical costs over the lifetime of American adults,  which would save 513,885 Americans from a potentially fatal strokes in their lifetimes, and another 480,358 from heart attacks.

“It looks like a modest decrease of 9.5 percent (in sodium) does seem to be worthwhile, in terms of cardiovascular disease,” Smith-Spangler said. The research is published in the March 2 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine.

Sodium is a persistent health problem in the Western diet.   An average American adult consumes an estimated 3,900 milligrams of sodium per day – 75 percent comes from processed food.  The daily recommendation is 2,300 milligrams per day.

The problem with sodium has become the subject of several public health efforts.

In January, the New York City Health Department partnered with cities, states and national health organizations to cut down the salt in packaged and restaurant foods.  It has set a goal to gradually cut sodium by 25 percent over five years.  CNN.com: New York seeks national reduction of salt in food

In the United Kingdom, its food agency had started an effort in 2003 partnering with manufacturers to reduce sodium in processed foods.  This has lead to an estimated 9.5 percent decrease in sodium intake for the population.

If the United States was to emulate the U.K. model, Stanford researchers concluded that such a measure would result in “significant savings in medical costs, as well as increases in quality adjusted life years.”

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soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. Robert E Henkin MD FACNP FACR

    This huge increase in recent years is heavily tied to the rapid increase in fast food consumption. As many of us don't have time to cook or never learned how this is exacerbated. Have you ever looked at the sodium content of a box prepared dinner foods at the grocery store, especially the dried dinners from popular companies that say just add meat or chicken? Some of them have 2000 milligrams of sodium per serving and the serving size is really not the size that most folks eat.

    Turn over the mat on your tray liner at McDonald's and you will find the sodium content of most their most popular offerings have a similar sodium content. So, if we don't even count breakfast (another source of sodium) just eating one fastfood serving per day and one boxed dinner at night and you have about 4,000 milligrams of sodium.

    We need to go back to preparing our own food if we want to control sodium. I can cook tasty low sodium meals and all my children (boys) learned how to cook before they were married.

    March 1, 2010 at 18:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. John

    Be careful with your canned food! Stop eating it ......... :)

    April 20, 2010 at 22:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. charles smith

    I used to cook for my mother at the tender age of ten.I now know that she was one of the smartest people I have ever known. I don't believe she got to ninth grade. That was around 1957-1965.. What a time for knowledge in Northern Florida.

    April 21, 2010 at 02:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Marie

    I have to say I am tired of the food police. My blood pressure is low, my cholesterol is low. I watch what I eat, however, on those rare occasions when I eat something bad for me, it's my choice. I don't go to McDonalds for salads, I want the cheeseburger! I like the salty soup. Are they going to take away the salt completely to keep people from adding it?

    April 21, 2010 at 14:30 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.