Vital Signs Blog

Congress opts to pass the salt to America's school children

Last-minute congressional budget bills are normally Christmas tree measures full of goodies for all sorts of special interests. The budget measure Congress approved this weekend was no exception. In it, the food industry and local school districts got a special gift that likely will impact the health of many Americans and, in the long run, affect how much they need to spend on healthcare.

Specifically, Congress relaxed what would have been a requirement for lower-salt food offerings in school lunch programs.

Schools and the food industry had fought the salt reduction, arguing more research is needed. Really? Americans are eating, between 3,000 mgs and 4,500 mgs of sodium a day, well above any recommended guidelines for healthy eating, according to a 2013 article in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

“Excess dietary sodium predisposes to clinically measured hypertension and especially to age-related increases in blood pressure (and thereby leading most likely to consequences such as stroke and heart failure). Furthermore, many studies indicate that excess sodium itself may have adverse health outcomes independent of its effects on blood pressure; such effects may include ventricular fibrosis, renal damage, gastric cancer, and even osteoporosis (via increased urinary calcium loss),” the article states.

Indeed, the 2010 dietary guidelines for Americans from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend a daily sodium intake of 2,300 mgs of sodium, 1,500 for those over age 51 or those with high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease, a group that today is about half the population.

The American Heart Association recommends 1,500 mgs a day, or about three-quarters of a teaspoon, for everyone.

The CDC also notes that “more than 75% of the sodium Americans eat comes from restaurant, prepackaged, and processed foods,” such as the food students get served in school lunches.

First lady Michelle Obama had been pushing for the new school lunch requirements. With the president a lame duck, it's doubtful Congress will revisit the salt issue in the next two years and should a Republican win the White House in 2016, it's even more doubtful the issue will surface at the federal level again, given Republican support to allow local school districts to make decisions on such matters at the local level. So it seems American school children will be eating salty foods into the foreseeable future with health consequences to follow.

Follow John N. Frank on Twitter: @MHJFrank


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