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PR- 179-10
April 26, 2010


NYC-led National Initiative Establishes Framework to Reduce Sodium by 25% in Packaged and Restaurant Foods by 2014

Voluntary Initiative Could Prevent Tens of Thousands of Needless Deaths from Heart Attack and Stroke

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Linda I. Gibbs and Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas A. Farley today announced the first 16 companies to formally commit to the National Salt Reduction Initiative - a public-private partnership created to reduce Americans' salt consumption by 20 percent over five years. New York City began coordinating this voluntary effort two years ago. The National Salt Reduction Initiative partnership now includes 18 national health organizations; 29 cities, states and related entities; and some of the nation's leading food companies, including: Au Bon Pain, Boar's Head, FreshDirect, Goya, Hain Celestial, Heinz, Kraft, LiDestri, Mars Food, McCain Foods, Red Gold, Starbucks, Subway, Unilever, Uno Chicago Grill and White Rose. The Mayor was joined at the announcement in the City Hall Blue Room by Mark Broadhurst, Director of Corporate Affairs and State Public Policy at Mars Foods; Lanette Kovachi, corporate dietician for Subway; Nancy Brown, Chief Executive Officer of the American Heart Association; Ursula Bauer, Director of the CDC's National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion; and Dr. Jonathan Fielding, Director of Public Health for Los Angeles County and Chair of the United States Preventive Services Task Force.

"By working together over the past two years, we have been able to accomplish something many said was impossible; setting concrete, achievable goals for salt reduction," said Mayor Bloomberg. "The National Salt Reduction Initiative has the potential to save tens of thousands of lives that otherwise would be lost to cardiovascular disease in coming years."

"Until the National Salt Reduction Initiative was created, there wasn't a platform for public and private organizations to develop solutions to this major heath issue," said Deputy Mayor Gibbs. "And while we certainly will continue to expand this program, we have taken a very important step forward in helping people live longer, healthier lives."

"Reducing salt intake has been a public health priority for decades," said Commissioner Farley. "We can now say we are taking the first steps to achieve it. This was made possible because of agencies and organizations that have joined to make this a truly national initiative, and we especially thank this group of companies that are leading the food industry toward a healthier food supply. We look forward to expanding the industry's participation in this vital public health effort."

Americans consume roughly twice the recommended limit of salt each day, causing widespread high blood pressure and placing millions at risk of heart attack and stroke. Only 11 percent of the sodium in our diets comes from our own saltshakers; nearly 80 percent is added to foods before they are sold. The sodium in salt is a major contributor to high blood pressure, which in turn causes heart attack and stroke, the nation's leading causes of preventable death. These conditions cause 23,000 deaths in New York City alone each year - more than 800,000 nationwide - and cost Americans billions in healthcare expenses.

The recommended daily limit for sodium intake is 1,500 mg for most adults and 2,300 mg for others. Some food products pack that much sodium in one serving. But much of the salt in Americans' diets comes from breads, muffins and other foods that don't taste salty. Salt levels can vary dramatically among popular products in the same category, such as breakfast cereals, indicating that lower levels are both technically feasible and commercially successful.

On April 20, the Institute of Medicine released a report stressing the urgent need to reduce sodium intake in the United States. The report recommends that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration use its regulatory authority to reduce salt in the nation's food supply, but it also notes that public-private partnerships can "achieve meaningful reductions in sodium intake prior to the implementation of mandatory standards." The National Salt Reduction Initiative has already begun this process, and will monitor sodium levels in 62 categories of packaged food and 25 categories of restaurant food. Besides charting the industry's progress, this initiative will also hold companies accountable for meeting their targets. The companies here today have made commitments to reducing sodium in 49 of the National Salt Reduction Initiative packaged food categories and 15 of the restaurant categories (see attached). These commitments are a first step toward a more healthful food supply.

Federal health authorities have voiced support for the National Salt Reduction Initiative, noting the urgent need for coordinated national action to reduce sodium in the food supply. "We are encouraged by voluntary efforts, including the National Salt Reduction Initiative," Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, principal deputy commissioner at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, wrote in a recent open letter. "Such efforts are very important to making progress on this public health issue."

"We applaud New York City for bringing greater focus to the need for sodium reduction in American diets," said Rhonda Jordan, President of Health & Wellness, Kraft Foods. "We believe that this public and transparent voluntary program can truly benefit both the food industry and consumers. We fully support the intent of the National Salt Reduction Initiative because we share the goal of reduced sodium, and have been working to lower sodium in our products for several years."

"We applaud Mayor Bloomberg and the City of New York's efforts to spearhead this initiative," said Mike Wilson, Vice President, Research & Development, Mars Food US. "The NSRI complements Mars Food's broader long-term strategy, and serves as an example of how public and private partnerships can positively affect health and nutrition efforts."

"Reducing sodium in our food is a commitment we have made for our restaurants globally," said Subway Corporate Dietitian, Lanette Kovachi. "We are proud to partner with the National Salt Reduction Initiative. It will provide an important barometer to help us measure the progress we are making."

About the National Salt Reduction Initiative:
The National Salt Reduction Initiative was created with a goal of cutting the salt in packaged and restaurant foods by 25% over five years - an achievement that would reduce the nation's salt intake by 20% and prevent many thousands of premature deaths. Through a year of technical consultation with food industry leaders, the initiative developed specific targets to help companies reduce the salt levels in 62 categories of packaged food and 25 categories of restaurant food.

When a company signs onto the initiative, it pledges that its overall sales in a given category will meet the relevant target for salt content, even if some individual products do not. A company selling three equally popular lines of crackers, for example, could keep one of them salty as long as its overall cracker sales met the target. If manufacturers and restaurants work in tandem to reduce average salt content, consumers will enjoy the health benefits without a noticeable difference in taste.

"Lowering sodium is essential to reversing the trend of more Americans developing high blood pressure - a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke," said Nancy Brown, Chief Executive Officer of the American Heart Association. "Adjusting our taste preferences, food manufacturing and marketing methods isn't easy - but efforts such as National Salt Reduction Initiative are steps in the right direction. These efforts are to be commended as an important first step toward significant sodium reduction in the food supply."

"This experience proves that there is no contradiction between a healthy bottom line and a healthier nation," said Dr. Fielding, the Los Angeles public health director, speaking on behalf of the many state and local government partners of the NSRI.

The program is modeled on a similar program in the United Kingdom, where food makers have reduced salt levels by 40 percent or more in some products. Canada, Australia, Finland, France, Ireland, and New Zealand have also launched national initiatives to help reduce the salt in food.

The National Salt Reduction Initiative received a great deal of support from philanthropists and donors, including the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Funding for the evaluation of population salt intake was provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the New York State Health Foundation, the National Association of County & City Health Officials and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

*National Salt Reduction Initiative Partners
Alaska Department of Health and Social Services
American College of Cardiology
American College of Epidemiology
American Dietetic Association
American Heart Association
American Medical Association
American Public Health Association
American Society of Hypertension
Arizona Department of Health Services
Association of Black Cardiologists
Association of State and Territorial Health Officials
Baltimore City Health Department
Boston Public Health Commission
California Department of Public Health
Chicago Department of Public Health
Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment
Consumers Union
Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists
Delaware Department of Health and Social Services, Division of Public Health
District of Columbia Department of Health
InterAmerican Heart Foundation
International Society of Hypertension in Blacks
Joint Policy Committee, Societies of Epidemiology
Los Angeles County Department of Public Health
Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention
Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene
Massachusetts Department of Public Health
Michigan Department of Community Health
National Association of Chronic Disease Directors
National Association of County and City Health Officials
National Hispanic Medical Association
National Kidney Foundation
New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene
New York State Chapter, American College of Cardiology
New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets
New York State Department of Health
North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Public Health
Northern Illinois Public Health Consortium
Oregon Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Public Health
Pennsylvania Department of Health
Philadelphia Department of Public Health
Preventive Cardiovascular Nurses Association
Public Health, Seattle and King County
Society for the Analysis of African-American Public Health Issues
Tennessee Department of Health
Washington State Department of Health
West Virginia Department of Health and Human Services, Bureau of Public Health
World Hypertension League

*Signatories as of April 23, 2010


Stu Loeser/Jessica Scaperotti   (212) 788-2958

Erin Brady/Celina DeLeon   (Department of Health & Mental Hygiene)
(212) 788-5290

More Resources
View the photos
NSRI Corporate Commitments and Comments (in PDF)