AMA Sets Sights on Old Foe: Salt

The use of salt in American diets is attacked at the annual meeting of the American Medical Association. Delegates debated whether to urge the Food and Drug Administration to take salt off the list of foods recognized as safe. Anti-salt advocates aim to lower the amount of salt in foods.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

The nation's largest doctors group has its eye on salty diets. Today the American Medical Association's house of delegates approved a resolution that aims for a 50 percent reduction in the amount of sodium used in processed foods and restaurant meals.

NPR's Allison Aubrey has details.

ALLISON AUBREY reporting:

Salt has long been used to preserve food, but many physicians say eating too much of it certainly won't preserve your health.

Dr. JOHN SCHNEIDER (American Medical Association): Too much sodium in the diet leads, in the long run, to significant high blood pressure and heart disease.

AUBREY: Physician John Schneider heads the AMA's council on science and public health. He pushed for the salt resolution passed today by arguing that a body of peer-reviewed evidence supports the need for it. He points to, for instance, a study published in 2001 that found a low-sodium diet of 1,500 milligrams per day lowers everyone's blood pressure, even those who have normal blood pressure.

Dr. SCHNEIDER: What we're interested in is reducing the amount of sodium in individuals' diets in those who are healthy and well so that they will not develop problems with hypertension or coronary artery disease, rather than treating them after the fact.

AUBREY: The recommendation approved today calls for multiple approaches to reduce sodium. One plan to ask the Food and Drug Administration to revoke salt's status as a safe substance. Michael Jacobson, who heads the consumer group Center for Science and the Public Interest, says the FDA's categorization of salt as safe has long stood in the way of efforts to reduce it.

Mr. MICHAEL JACOBSON (Center for Science and the Public Interest): The food industry could do it on its own but it hasn't.

AUBREY: The new AMA resolution puts forth a plan to work with the industry to reduce salt in processed and restaurant foods by 50 percent over the next decade. Grocery Manufacturers Association Spokeswoman Stephanie Childs says her industry is already trying. The challenge, she says, is that consumers seem to love the taste of salt.

Ms. STEPHANIE CHILDS (Grocery Manufacturers Association): They automatically equate low sodium with no taste. So companies have moved forward with finding ways to incrementally, but cumulatively, reduce sodium.

AUBREY: Without compromising taste. The AMA's resolution will not force action overnight. But physician John Schneider says it can raise awareness and perhaps prompt policymakers to respond.

Allison Aubrey, NPR News, Washington.

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