Jan 1, 2009
Overconsumption of sodium is a persistent problem in the United States. It leads to high blood pressure and contributes to related illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends that adults consume no more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium each day, with lower amounts recommended for groups at higher risk of developing high blood pressure. It seems intuitively clear that reducing sodium intake would improve Americans' health and reduce medical costs; yet, to date, the potential benefits have not been quantified. To address this gap, RAND researchers used a simulation model to estimate the effects of reducing average sodium consumption, across the adult U.S. population, on
The model incorporated information about adult Americans' blood pressure levels, use of antihypertensive medications, and sodium intake from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a federal study that assesses Americans' health and nutritional status. Results showed the following:
The researchers note that these estimates are conservative because they exclude several sources of potential savings: health benefits experienced by people who start with low blood pressure or who retain high blood pressure even after lowering their sodium intake, the benefits of reducing the ill effects of cardiovascular disease outside of the hypertension link, and the benefits of reducing future illness by lowering current blood pressure levels.
Lowering sodium intake across the nation's population will not be easy. Studies suggest that more than 75 percent of Americans' dietary sodium intake comes from processed foods, rather than from salt added during cooking at home or at the dining table. Restaurant food also is generally high in sodium. Strategies that are currently being considered by policymakers include redesigning food labels to highlight sodium levels, having manufacturers voluntarily lower sodium levels, and adopting regulations that would require food processors to lower sodium.