Michael Johnson/FlickrProcessed meats like hot dogs are high in sodium.
Two California counties will receive more than $775,000 in federal funding to reduce sodium intake in their communities, particularly at restaurants and schools.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday announced $1.9 million in grants for sodium-reduction initiatives, including $363,366 to Los Angeles County and $412,198 to Shasta County. The funding covers one year, with the potential for renewal in the same amounts for two additional years.
Research has long showed that Americans consume too much sodium, a major contributor to high blood pressure and heart disease.
Americans age 20 and older consume an average of 3,466 milligrams of sodium each day – more than double the recommended 1,500 mg for most adults. ("Most adults" being the nearly 70 percent of adults who have high blood pressure, are middle-aged or older, or are black. Everyone else, federal guidelines say, can consume up to 2,300 mg of sodium – about a teaspoon of salt – a day.) Fewer than one in 10 of adults met these recommendations in 2005, the CDC found.
An estimated 77 percent of sodium comes from restaurant and processed foods. Among the saltiest culprits: Grains and vegetables in frozen meals and soups; and processed meats, such as bacon and hot dogs, which a recent study showed contained an average of four times more sodium than unprocessed meats.
Under the new federal health care law, chain restaurants will soon have to display calorie information on their menus and, upon request, provide nutrition information such as sodium content.
Both Los Angeles and Shasta counties will use some of their new federal funds to meet these requirements, officials said.
Los Angeles County will launch a pilot program to monitor restaurants' compliance for menu labeling and sodium content, said Jonathan Fielding, director of public health and the health officer for the county. The county will also promote low-sodium food policies, he said.
Working with the California Department of Public Health, Shasta County will target at least five local restaurants to rework menu offerings to lower sodium levels and meet the federal guidelines, said Peggy Agron, acting chief of the department's cancer control branch.
Both counties will also target schools. A study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association last year found that no school lunch programs met federal sodium benchmarks.
Shasta County's public health department will work with at least one elementary school district and one high school district to reduce sodium, Agron said. The effort will also extend to at least one local government, which will establish sodium guidelines for food sold in its facilities.
Fielding said Los Angeles will make sure school districts and preschools know how much sodium is in the food they serve, and will try to find lower-salt alternatives.
"They have choices," Fielding said of the food schools order and serve. He pointed to a "salt affinity" in food preparation: About 10 percent of the sodium in our diets comes from table salt and cooking.
The United States could save an estimated $18 billion in health care costs each year if adults cut their salt to the recommended 2,300 mg per day, researchers at the RAND Corporation found last year. Cases of high blood pressure – the source of 395,000 deaths each year – would drop by 11 million, researchers said.