A new study has found that reducing salt in processed foods could prevent strokes and heart attacks and also save billions of dollars in medical costs.
According to researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine and the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System, the U.S. food service industry should make a voluntary effort to reduce salt.
In the study, the researchers developed a computerized model that simulates the effects of reduced sodium intake on a large population of people between the ages of 40 and 85. Based on a similar, salt-reduction campaign in the United Kingdom, the researchers estimated that a collaborative industry effort could lead to a 9.5 per cent decline in Americans’ salt intake.
That, in turn, would lead to a very modest decline in blood pressure among American consumers, minimizing a major risk factor for cardiovascular problems.
“In our analysis, we found these small decreases in blood pressure would be effective in reducing deaths due to cardiovascular disease,” Crystal Smith-Spangler, MD, a postdoctoral scholar at the VA and first author of the study, said. “The numbers of affected people are huge, so even a small decrease is significant if you have large numbers of people involved,” Smith-Spangler said.
By the researchers’ calculations, some 513,885 Americans would be spared from potentially fatal strokes in their lifetimes, and another 480,358 would not suffer heart attacks as a result of the reduced salt campaign. In the study, the researchers relied on data from a variety of sources, including the Framingham Heart Study and the 2006 Medical Panel Expenditure Survey, to develop a hypothetical model of health benefits and costs of two different methods to reduce salt intake on a large scale. The findings are published in the March 2 Annals of Internal Medicine.