National salt reduction initiative announced in US

January 14, 2010

New York City, together with 40 other city and State governments and national health organizations, has announced the launch of the National Salt Reduction Initiative (NSRI). The NSRI is a voluntary initiative to reduce the levels of salt and sodium in both packaged foods and restaurant foods. Its goal is to reduce sodium in packaged foods and restaurant foods by 25% over 5 years, thereby reducing sodium intake in the U.S. population by 20% over the same period. The NSRI claims that a sodium reduction of this magnitude would prevent tens of thousands of premature deaths each year.

The initiative is being coordinated by New York City but includes 26 other city and State government agencies and 17 national health organizations (including the American Medical Association and American Heart Association). In addition, the NSRI claims that Federal agencies are aware of the initiative and supportive of its work. According to press reports, so far only a few companies (e.g., Subway, A&P) have committed to meeting the NSRI salt reduction targets. The NSRI is modeled on a similar program in the United Kingdom.

If a company signs on to the initiative, it commits to meeting phased-in sodium reduction targets for its products: one target that must be met by 2012, and a lower target that must be met by 2014. The NSRI has stated that the proposed targets released were the result of a year of consultations with the food industry. The NSRI will accept comments on the proposed targets until Feb. 1, 2010, and will issue final targets in the spring.

The NSRI has developed a database that it will use to monitor sodium levels, and determine whether companies are meeting their targets. The NSRI database will also monitor levels of other key ingredients and nutrients such as fats, sugars, and calories. The database links nutrition data and sales data to UPC codes, allowing the NSRI to calculate sales-weighted mean sodium levels for each food category.

The NSRI will publicly recognize companies that participate and that meet their targets. Companies that commit to targets but fail to meet them will be asked to submit documentation explaining why they could not meet the target and a timeframe for meeting the target.

While the NSRI claims that the proposed sodium targets are realistic, it should be noted that some of the proposed targets for 2014 would require substantial reductions in sodium content. For example, the proposed targets call for sodium reductions of about 20% in peanut butter, 30–40% in breakfast cereals, 25% in restaurant pizzas, and 25% in restaurant French fries.

Press release