Great news: FDA to regulate salt in processed foods

posted at 11:36 am on April 20, 2010 by Ed Morrissey

How does government intervention get sold to citizens?  First, publicize a “crisis” and warn that dire consequences will follow without some immediate changes.  Push people into changing their choices voluntarily with social pressure and warnings of impending disaster.  At some point, declare those efforts insufficient and propose government intervention as the only way to save people from themselves.

DDT? Global warming?  Alar?  No … salt:

The Food and Drug Administration is planning an unprecedented effort to gradually reduce the salt consumed each day by Americans, saying that less sodium in everything from soup to nuts would prevent thousands of deaths from hypertension and heart disease. The initiative, to be launched this year, would eventually lead to the first legal limits on the amount of salt allowed in food products.

The government intends to work with the food industry and health experts to reduce sodium gradually over a period of years to adjust the American palate to a less salty diet, according to FDA sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the initiative had not been formally announced.

Officials have not determined the salt limits. In a complicated undertaking, the FDA would analyze the salt in spaghetti sauces, breads and thousands of other products that make up the $600 billion food and beverage market, sources said. Working with food manufacturers, the government would set limits for salt in these categories, designed to gradually ratchet down sodium consumption. The changes would be calibrated so that consumers barely notice the modification.

The FDA has never interjected itself into the recipes of prepared foods.  Instead, they have enforced full disclosure on labels, allowing consumers to select the healthiest options for themselves if they wish.  Why the change?  The FDA says we can’t choose for ourselves:

Until now, the government has pushed the food industry to voluntarily reduce salt and tried to educate consumers about the dangers of excessive sodium. But in a study to be released Wednesday, an expert panel convened by the Institute of Medicine concludes that those measures have failed. The panel will recommend that the government take action, according to sources familiar with the findings.

Of course they will!  But there’s just one little problem.  According to the latest research, sodium intake isn’t really a health problem for normal adults. An Einstein University study in 2008 showed no connection between cardiovascular disease risk and higher-sodium diets:

High-salt diets may not increase the risk of death, contrary to long-held medical beliefs, according to investigators from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University.

They reached their conclusion after examining dietary intake among a nationally representative sample of adults in the U.S. The Einstein researchers actually observed a significantly increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease (CVD) associated with lower sodium diets.

The researchers analyzed data from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III), which was conducted by the federal government among a nationally representative sample of U.S. adults. These data were then compared against death records that had been collected by the government through the year 2000. The sample of approximately 8,700 represented American adults who were over 30 years of age at the time of the baseline survey (1988-1994) and were not on a special low-salt diet.

After adjusting for known CVD risk factors, such as smoking, diabetes and blood pressure, the one-fourth of the sample who reported consuming the lowest amount of sodium were found to be 80% more likely to die from CVD compared to the one-fourth of the sample consuming the highest level of sodium. The risk for death from any cause appeared 24% greater for those consuming lower salt, but this latter difference was not quite large enough to dismiss the role of chance.

“Our findings suggest that for the general adult population, higher sodium is very unlikely to be independently associated with higher risk of death from CVD or all other causes of death,” says Dr. Hillel W. Cohen, associate professor of epidemiology and population health at Einstein.

But why let science spoil all of the nanny-state fun?  Don’t let facts get in the way of a crisis model for government intervention.  After all, it’s for your own good, which the elites in the federal bureaucracy obviously understand better than you do.

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