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Are There Cost-Effective Ways to Help People Eat Less Salt? FREE

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The summary below is from the full report titled “Population Strategies to Decrease Sodium Intake and the Burden of Cardiovascular Disease. A Cost-Effectiveness Analysis.” It is in the 20 April 2010 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine (volume 152, pages 481-487). The authors are C.M. Smith-Spangler, J.L. Juusola, E.A. Enns, D.K. Owens, and A.M. Garber.

Ann Intern Med. 2010;152(8):I-27. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-152-8-201004200-00213
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What is the problem and what is known about it so far?

Salt increases blood pressure in many people. Eating less salt lowers blood pressure, and lower blood pressure prevents heart attacks, strokes, and kidney failure. However, many people find it very difficult to eat less salt, because many processed foods contain salt. Eating less salt often requires cooking for yourself or changing many of the things you eat. One way to get people to eat less salt is to have food companies reduce the salt they put in their products. Another way is to have a “salt tax,” so that food with more salt costs more money. A salt tax might remind people that eating too much salt costs their health in the long-term by forcing them to pay a financial cost in the short-term. Whether these 2 ideas are effective is unknown.

Why did the researchers do this particular study?

To see if asking food companies to reduce the salt they put in food or taxing salt in food might make people healthier, and at what cost.

Who was studied?

The researchers did not study actual people. They used computer models to simulate what would happen to a hypothetical group of people aged 40 to 85 years.

How was the study done?

The researchers used information from research studies to estimate the health benefits and costs of the 2 ways to help people eat less salt.

What did the researchers find?

Compared with doing nothing, either strategy to help people eat less salt would prevent hundreds of thousands of heart attacks and strokes and would save billions of dollars.

What were the limitations of the study?

This study was conducted by using a computer model and was based on many assumptions that reflect the uncertainty in available information. The researchers did not look at unintended consequences of salt reductions. For example, some people might increase the amount of calories or fat they eat to compensate for less salt. Finally, the researchers did not look at every disease caused by high blood pressure, just heart attacks and strokes. Including more diseases would probably increase the estimated benefits and savings.

What are the implications of the study?

Asking food companies to reduce the salt in the foods they make or taxing high-salt foods could lead to dramatic improvements in health and could save the health care system billions of dollars.





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