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The National Salt Reduction Initiative (NSRI): Coordinating with Industry to Lower Salt in the Food Supply

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This is a guest post by Elizabeth Leonard from the New York City Department of Health & Mental Hygiene.

The Problem

Heart disease and stroke are the leading killers nationwide and high blood pressure is a major cause. A known risk factor for high blood pressure is excess sodium intake and most Americans consume too much – about 3,400 mg per day instead of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans’ recommended limit of 2,300 mg. Reducing sodium intake is an important strategy for individual and population level cardiovascular disease prevention – it can save lives and money. Achieving reductions will require less sodium in processed food because nearly 80% of sodium consumed is already in the food when we buy at supermarkets and restaurants.

What is the NSRI?

In 2009 the New York City Health Department launched the National Salt Reduction Initiative (NSRI), which aims to reduce sodium in the food supply, thereby reducing sodium intake and ultimately of high blood pressure and subsequent heart disease and stroke risk. To meet these goals, we encourage food companies to voluntarily commit to NSRI sodium targets and we monitor change.

The NSRI is a national effort that counts about 100 city, state, and public health associations as partners, including the American Heart Association. It is coordinated by the NYC Health Department. The partnership demonstrates national support for sodium reduction and shares news, research, and best practices on sodium.

How Does It Work?

The NSRI created challenging yet feasible sodium reduction targets for 62 packaged food and 25 restaurant food categories for 2012 and 2014. Nearly 30 food companies committed to achieving NSRI targets; committed companies represent a cross-section of the industry and include Kraft, Starbucks, and Delhaize America. We monitor progress of the committed companies as well as the food supply as a whole, adding a level of transparency and accountability to the NSRI.

Creating the targets required an understanding of the food supply in 2009, and to that end the NYC Health Department met with food companies and built and analyzed a database that merged sales and sodium data. Meetings with industry provided insight into the nuances and challenges of sodium reduction and the database revealed the average and range of sodium in each food category and what was achievable. In 2009, each food category had top-selling products on the market that already met the targets, demonstrating feasibility. The 2014 targets are roughly a 25% reduction from the average sodium content at baseline; these challenging goals were set in order to seek meaningful change.

What’s Been Achieved So Far and what’s Next?

In 2012, 21 companies met their NSRI commitments. Sodium reductions included: Kraft Singles American Slices -18%; Subway’s Italian B.M.T Sandwich -27% and Ragu Old World Style Traditional Tomato Sauce -20%. The NYC Health Department is currently analyzing sodium changes in the food supply between 2009 and 2014. NSRI looks forward to sharing results when available. If your health department or organization is interested in joining the NSRI partnership, please email Elizabeth Leonard at eleonard1@heath.nyc.gov.

Elizabeth LeonardElizabeth Leonard is the Healthy Eating Project Coordinator in the Bureau of Chronic Disease Prevention & Tobacco Control at the New York City Department of Health & Mental Hygiene.

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