Nearly all Americans – regardless of age, race, gender or whether they have high blood pressure (hypertension) – consume more sodium than is recommended for a healthy diet. That is the conclusion of a new report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in today's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).
According to the latest findings, more than 90 percent of children and 89 percent of adults aged 19 and older eat too much sodium, that is, more than the recommended limits in the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, not including salt added at the table. The newly released guidelines – which are developed around current scientific evidence and released every five years – recommend limiting sodium to less than 2,300 mg per day for people over the age of 14 and less for those younger. Evidence links excess sodium intake to high blood pressure and other health problems.
"The finding that nine of ten adults and children still consume too much salt is alarming," said CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH. "The evidence is clear: too much sodium in our foods leads to high blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Reducing sodium in manufactured and restaurant foods will give consumers more choice and save lives."
CDC researchers analyzed dietary data from the 2009-2012 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES) to calculate how much sodium Americans are eating. Nearly 15,000 people were included in this study.
Sodium consumption high among those at risk of heart disease
Excess sodium intake is a problem across gender, race, and health status. Some differences were seen:
- Among adults, a larger proportion of men (98 percent) than women (80 percent) consume too much sodium.
- About 90 percent of adult whites consume excess sodium compared with 85 percent of blacks.
- Estimated sodium and calorie consumption peaks between the ages of 19 and 50.
- Among people at greater risk of developing heart disease or stroke – such as people age 51 and older, African Americans and individuals with high blood pressure or pre-hypertension (blood pressure higher than normal but not in the "high" range) – more than three out of four exceed 2,300 mg per day.
- Adults with hypertension consume slightly less sodium than other adults, and may be trying to follow physicians' advice to reduce sodium. However, 86 percent of adults with hypertension still consume too much.
These new findings show that little has changed in sodium consumption over the past decade. More than three quarters of sodium in the American diet is estimated to come from processed and restaurant food, which gives consumers little choice when it comes to lowering daily intake. A key strategy for lowering population-wide sodium intake is gradually reducing sodium in the food supply. Some food companies have begun to voluntarily reduce sodium in their products and others are being encouraged to take similar steps.
The report also highlights the important role healthcare professionals can play in advising patients on how to limit salt in the diet. About one in three U.S. adults – or about 70 million people – already have high blood pressure and only half have it under control. Heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases kill more than 800,000 Americans each year and cost nearly $320 billion a year in health care and lost productivity.
"Sodium reduction is a key part of preventing heart disease and stroke," said Sandra Jackson, an author of the report and an epidemiologist in CDC's Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention. "Reducing sodium is an achievable and effective strategy to improve heart health for everyone, but it's going to take all of us working together to make it possible."