RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Cash-strapped cities like Philadelphia and New York are pushing hard to pass sugar taxes to boost revenue and, hopefully, combat a growing obesity epidemic fueled in part by sugary sodas. But there's not much talk about instituting a salt tax, which, according to the results of a new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, could save billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives. The average American adult consumes 3,900 milligrams of sodium each day, nearly double the recommended 2,300 milligrams, and the authors write that taxing salty food could lower salt intake by upwards of 10 percent and have a profound public-health impact.
THE DETAILS: The authors' goal was to find out whether increasing the price of salty foods would lead to overall improvements in public health by reducing the incidence of heart attacks and stroke. Using computer models, they tested a scenario in which the price of salty foods was raised by 40 percent, which they assumed would lower overall salt intake among the general population by 9.5 percent. Their models projected there would be 513,885 fewer strokes and 480,358 fewer heart attacks over the course of a lifetime among adults aged 40 to 85. The authors also estimated that the country would save $32.1 billion in medical costs. Even if the country's salt intake only dropped by 6 percent, we'd still see benefits: 327,892 fewer strokes and 306,137 fewer heart attacks, with $22.4 billion in savings.
WHAT IT MEANS: Most of the assumptions made in this study were modeled after an existing program in the United Kingdom, where the Food Standards Agency (equivalent to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration) worked with food manufacturers to cut sodium in processed foods to reach voluntary maximum levels for specific foods. The program started in 2003 and has already achieved a 9.5 percent reduction in sodium consumption there.
Read on for tips on how to cut salt out of the saltiest foods in your diet.
Published on: March 8, 2010