US FDA's voluntary sodium target implementation could save US$40bn, study shows


11 Apr 2018 --- A study has revealed the potential health and economic benefits that could be reaped if the voluntary sodium reduction goals from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would be implemented. The study, published in PLOS Medicine, found that more than US$40 billion could be saved over 20 years if the goals were indeed put into practice. The goals, released in 2016, set limits on how much salt should be in certain foods from food companies and restaurants.

“There is no doubt that these findings have important implications for the processed and commercially prepared food industry in the US,” says Professor Martin O'Flaherty, Senior Study author, University of Liverpool.

If the goals were fully embraced by the food industry, the results could be substantial. Researchers found that in the optimal scenario, which would be 100 percent compliance with the 10 year FDA targets, could prevent approximately 450,000 cardiovascular disease cases, gain 2 million Quality Adjusted Life Years (QALYs) and produce discounted cost savings of approximately US$40 billion over a 20 year period (2017-2016).

In contrast, the modest scenario, which is 50 percent compliance of the 10 year FDA targets, and the pessimistic scenario, 100 percent compliance of the two year targets but no further progress, could yield health and economic gains approximately half as great, and a quarter as great, respectively.

All three scenarios were likely to be cost effective by 2021 and cost saving by 2031.

The voluntary limits on the amount of sodium in processed and restaurant foods had been applauded by the American Heart Association, in light of FDA finding that more than 70 percent of the sodium ingested by the American public comes from processed and restaurant foods.

A few weeks ago, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, during his remarks at the National Food Policy Conference, emphasized the importance of sodium reduction to US health, indicating that the 2016 goals had not been forgotten: “There remains no single more effective public health action related to nutrition than the reduction of sodium in the diet.”

This study magnifies the potential of the FDA’s voluntary goals, in both health and economic terms.

“Our study suggests that full industry compliance with the FDA voluntary sodium reformulation targets, would result in very substantial decreases in CVD incidence and mortality whilst also offering impressive cost savings to the health payers and the wider economy,” says Dr Jonathan Pearson-Stuttard of the University of Liverpool and Imperial College London.

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Infographic supplied by AHA
Sodium Reduction Initiative

Emphasizing the role of the government in implementing strategies to reduce sodium in foods is a global occurrence.

NutritionInsight has previously reported on the activities of UK Lobby group, Action on Salt, calling on Public Health England to equip consumers with deeper knowledge about the foods they are consuming, by calling for salty ready meals to come with health warnings.

An Innova Market Insights analysis of low sodium claims in Europe (2011-2015), strongly indicated that the UK leads for low sodium claims, accounting for 29 percent of all new product launches tracked with these claims in Europe. Among the top three are the Netherlands and France with respectively 11.1 percent and 15.1 percent share of product launches tracked with a low sodium claim. Other countries each account for less than 5 percent of the low sodium claimed new product launches tracked in 2011-2015. 

Americans have displayed a clear wish to follow Europe’s suit in sodium reduction, with the American Heart Association reporting that 62 percent of US consumers believe that the government should be involved in setting limits on the amount of sodium added by food companies and restaurants, and 78 percent of American parents want less sodium in processed foods, while 85 percent support policies that reduce sodium in school cafeteria foods.

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