CDC: Americans consume too much sodium
October 20th, 2011
04:05 PM ET

CDC: Americans consume too much sodium

Eighty-eight percent of U.S. children and adults consume more sodium per day than the amount recommended by federal dietary guidelines, according to a new report released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And most Americans aren't just exceeding these guidelines; they're shattering them. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommend that adults and teens limit their daily sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams, but according to the report the average intake is 3,513 milligrams - 53% above the suggested limit.

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The picture is even worse among the subpopulations for whom the daily recommended limit is 1,500 milligrams: people over 50; blacks; and those with high blood pressure, diabetes, or kidney disease. Members of these groups, which account for nearly half of the U.S. population, tend to be especially sensitive to sodium, yet 99% of them exceed the recommended intake and the average person more than doubles the 1,500-milligram limit.

"We're consuming far more [sodium] than is recommended, no matter what group you're in," says Janelle Peralez Gunn, a coauthor of the report and a public health analyst with the CDC's Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention.

The researchers weren't surprised by the data, but the findings underscore that health officials "have work to do" in educating the public about the dangers of excess sodium, Gunn says. Consuming too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure (hypertension), which can in turn contribute to life-threatening health problems such as heart attacks and strokes.

Health.com: Natural ways to lower blood pressure

For most people, locking away the saltshaker won't be enough to lower their sodium intake to healthy levels, since three-quarters of the sodium consumed in the United States comes from packaged foods and restaurant meals. "A lot of people tend to think…'I don't add salt to my food,' without realizing that they've probably already exceeded—and in some cases probably doubled—their [recommended] intake before they've even picked up the saltshaker," Gunn says.

Reducing sodium intake on a population-wide level will almost certainly require partnerships between government and the food industry to reduce the use of sodium during food processing, Gunn and her colleagues suggest. A public-private partnership of this sort has led to an estimated 10% reduction in salt intake in the UK, the report notes, and New York City is spearheading a similar partnership in the U.S. inspired by that effort.

More than two dozen food manufacturers and restaurant chains—including Kraft, Heinz, Goya, and Subway—have already signed on to the program, known as the National Salt Reduction Initiative. These companies have pledged to reduce the sodium in their foods by up to 25% by 2014.

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The new report is based on a nationally representative survey conducted by the CDC between 2005 and 2008, which included a detailed diet questionnaire. Public awareness of excess sodium has likely risen since 2008, thanks to increased media coverage and public-health campaigns such as the New York City initiative, but the results would not be much different if the survey were conducted today, Gunn says.

"Given that the intake is fairly high, even if we've had some impact in more recent years the vast majority of people are still going to be consuming more sodium than is recommended," she says.

Copyright Health Magazine 2011

soundoff (135 Responses)
  1. S_LT

    I did something stupid one. I listened to these self-made experts and almost killed myself. Everybody is different. I'm not eating sodium reduced anything. My weight is the same as it was 30 years ago. When I followed their rules I had a heart attack. It's a funny thing that I quit taking their pills and went back to a normal diet and now my blood work is OK.....go figure.

    October 21, 2011 at 17:04 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Laney

      Hey smarty-pants.... regarding your comment on how eating less salt didn't effect your weight – eating less salt has nothing to do with cutting calories. Just because you eat less salt does not mean you will lose weight (aside from fluid loss you might have been holding on to). If you are a fatty and stop eating salt, you are still going to be a fatty. You need to cut calories and fat to expect weight loss.

      October 22, 2011 at 13:19 | Report abuse |
    • james

      You;'re a fool. Americans eat to much salt that is not a 'self made expert' statement, that is the statement of an industry of health professionals.

      You should take heed, fatty.

      October 22, 2011 at 19:33 | Report abuse |
    • SixDegrees

      Have you considered the possibility that your heart attack happened in spite of medical intervention, which probably came too late to be of much help? Also, if you really believe that your doctor caused your heart attack, how much did you win from your malpractice suit? Juries tend to take a very dim view of wrongful diagnoses of such magnitude – unless the plaintiff is obviously overreaching.

      October 23, 2011 at 06:05 | Report abuse |
    • John Gabriel

      Agreed. The fat slobs (most Americans are gluttons) are the ones who need to be cutting down on salt. I once knew someone who went on an anti-salt crusade. He had a huge beer belly and was very overweight. Remind you of anyone? Yep, the USA!

      October 23, 2011 at 10:32 | Report abuse |
  2. ProveIt

    Hey government, leave my salt alone – damn it! Find something more productive to do with your time, like cutting spending.

    October 21, 2011 at 22:44 | Report abuse | Reply
    • D

      Ok, here is one way to cut spending. Reduce salt in packaged foods, and then as a result spend less on Medicare! See, it is all related, if you actually think.

      October 22, 2011 at 14:44 | Report abuse |
    • ProveIt

      You don't get it.

      October 22, 2011 at 22:43 | Report abuse |
  3. Cicero

    Get these idiots out of our lives.

    VOTE RON PAUL 2012

    October 22, 2011 at 07:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. KC

    Speak for yourself. I was raised cooking with almost no salt, which is how I cook. And developed a health condition which requires extra salt to avoid passing out; the recommended self-help treatment is to drink salt water. So I've had to learn how to dump salt in and on everything I cook. Just because a lot of people have high blood pressure (which is often caused by weight problems) does not mean that EVERYONE needs to avoid salt.

    October 22, 2011 at 08:22 | Report abuse | Reply
    • D

      Wow-what a bunch of salt apologists! Let me make this easy for you. If restaurants add less salt and food manufacturers add less salt, if you actually have a NEED for more salt, there are things called salt packets and salt shakers. Add your own. Once the salt is in the food, it can not be taken out. So many times I go to restaurants and think the food is too salty for my taste.

      October 22, 2011 at 14:46 | Report abuse |
    • Jim

      To properly season many foods (like pasta) the salt must be added during cooking – putting it on top just makes it taste salty! Salt (other than its ability to cure meats by preventing bacterial growth, and its many IRREPLACEABLE uses in baking) can make sweet taste sweeter, and bitter less so. It's to make things taste better, not more salty, when used properly. Simply leaving the salt out of your cooking expecting those you're feeding to add their own shows an ignorance of the proper use of salt in cooking.

      October 22, 2011 at 15:23 | Report abuse |
  5. Jim

    Ask one of these so-called experts HOW sodium causes hypertension, and you will get a blank stare. They don't know! They only know there are studies that correlate high sodium intake with hypertension. When one of them can give me a scientific explanation of the mechanism by which sodium intake leads to hypertension, I will gladly listen and take heed. Until then, shove your studies.

    October 22, 2011 at 15:19 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Johnny

      Hey, Jim, it is no secret how sodium causes hypertension, the sodium level affects your kidneys, which play a key role in the regulation of blood pressure. If you are not genetically predisposed to high blood pressure, controlling your sodium is not the critical. If you tend to have high blood pressure, limiting your sodium is one of the easier ways to make a positive difference.

      You can have great flavors without using salt. See http://goo.gl/mY6b5 for some tips and tricks.

      October 22, 2011 at 15:28 | Report abuse |
    • SixDegrees

      Uh – since you agree that there is definitely a link between high sodium intake and high blood pressure, why would you ignore the problem simply because the precise mechanism is unknown? It's hard to imagine a more fallacious line of reasoning than yours; it's like saying that, because the mechanism by which gravity works is unknown, you'll feel free to jump off buildings.

      October 23, 2011 at 06:15 | Report abuse |
    • Elena

      Actually Jim, anyone who has studied medicine can explain this to you and I bet even wikipedia. Sodium influences the renin-angiotensin hormone system in the body. Since sodium is an important electrolyte in the body (your heart uses it, your muscles use it) this pathway seeks to achieve homeostatis and if your dietary consumption of sodium is too high the renin response is overstimulated and it causes vascular constriction, which will raise your blood pressure because now the tube's (your vessels) have a smaller diameter so the pressure goes up. We understand this system so well interrupting it is the target of the most common blood pressure medication in this country: lisinipril/enalipril/etc. These are ACE-inhibitors and they do just what their name says, inhibit ACE which is a coenzyme in this pathway. So yeah, sorry, but science does understand this precisely, so maybe you should listen to these studies.

      October 23, 2011 at 07:59 | Report abuse |
  6. Alan

    All store bought meat has been injected with salt water; how are people supposed to avoid that?

    October 22, 2011 at 22:33 | Report abuse | Reply
    • SixDegrees

      No, not all; not even a lot, in fact. And even those that do are readily available in un-brined form.

      October 23, 2011 at 05:56 | Report abuse |
  7. Mike

    When the CDC starts raising a concern about the amount of people in this country hooked on prescription meds, I'll start listening to them, until then...

    October 22, 2011 at 23:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. SixDegrees

    While I think the CDC is probably overboard on this topic, the amount of flat-out denial seen around here is appalling. Here's a simple, cost-free way to see if there's a problem: have your blood pressure tested. This is offered as a free service at pharmacies and clinics across the country, and takes less than a minute. Something fairly close to 120/80 is what you're hoping for. If it's much higher than that – or lower – you should definitely see a doctor. And there's a good chance that modifying your salt intake will bring your BP closer to the norm.

    October 23, 2011 at 06:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Anne

    I am one who can live without salt, but from what I have read you need a certain amount of salt in your diet. On the other hand my husband can't live without salt. But several years ago he learned that he would have to live without spilling the salt shaker on his food. It wasn't bothering his heart, but his kidneys. They found that the salt was producing his kidney stones. Since finding that out, he laid off the salt and has a very minimal problem with kidney stones.

    October 23, 2011 at 06:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Elena

    Oh CNN, way to perpetuate a misunderstanding with your headline and photo. As one of the quotees points out it isn't table salt that is big the problem it's sodium in food like packaged foods and in restaurants (for the same reason) Did you know when you go to Chili's, Applebees, etc, all that food came frozen, pre-prepared in a package so it will taste the same no matter where you go? So start cooking food not from a box or can and if you go out, try a local restaurant that actually makes their own food.

    October 23, 2011 at 07:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Maggie

    There is no evidence that salt is linked with any medical problems. We've always blamed high blood pressure on salt, but pull articles on it, or even look at emedicine, and there is no mention of that. It is all a long-standing urban legend.

    October 23, 2011 at 09:56 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Katie

      Salt is linked to water retention, which in turn is linked to other problems, like hypertension.

      October 23, 2011 at 12:53 | Report abuse |
  12. Katie

    There is so much unnecessary salt in so many things – read your packages. It's too easy to have too much salt. We've always enjoyed low or reduced sodium products when they're available and we cook from scratch and rarely add salt to it. We've never had a salt shaker on the table. Our kids grew up without requesting the salt. In restaurants they didn't like ordering fries because they "tasted funny" and once of them handed back a milk shake because he thought he could taste salt in it. Salt is a preservative and an enhancement, not a condiment, and it's definitely overused commercially.

    October 23, 2011 at 12:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. ecks

    88 percent in the U.S. eat too much.

    October 23, 2011 at 15:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. us1776

    In the South people eat too little salt.


    October 23, 2011 at 18:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Portland tony

    So the salt Guy at the CDC is getting her press release! Seriously, there is far more dangerous stuff you can put in your gut than salt. If you are hypertensive ....watch the salt. Otherwise use common sense!

    October 23, 2011 at 21:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Larry

    One word Hyponatremia. Don't get so carried away with salt paranoia that you end up sick or dead from lack of salt.
    If your working outside in the heat, or have some sort of stomach flu, salt is your friend.

    October 23, 2011 at 22:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Mcccccc

    Just a quick warning to anybody who decides to lower their salt intake.....

    You might want to think about an iodine supplement. Most people these days get their iodine from table salt (iodized salt). It's quite easy to become deficient and cause yourself some major thyroid issues if you cut out too much salt without keeping an eye on your iodine levels. Most of our vegetables are considerable lower in iodine these days so I predict we will be seeing a lot of thyroid issues creeping up with the constant push to lower salt intake.

    October 24, 2011 at 05:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Tom

    I happen to think salt makes things taste too salty. I never put salt on anything, but if I track what I'm eating with a handy app on my phone, my sodium levels skyrocket just from eating ordinary food. The food makers put tons of sodium in everything, and I suspect it would all taste better with less.

    October 24, 2011 at 08:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Wow

    Yup, here comes the health police. The police of the 21st century will not carry badges and guns, but will wear white coats and carry stethoscopes.

    February 7, 2012 at 15:04 | Report abuse | Reply
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