First, smoking was banned all throughout New York City in public places, then, trans fat was taken off the menu, and now the city has a new target: salt.
The city is planning to unveil their new plan for salt reduction today, which in the end is supposed to work with health agencies and food companies to reduce the amount of packaged salt in products and restaurant food by 25 percent in the next five years.
Why is salt such a big deal? It has a huge part in causing hypertension – high blood pressure. Reducing the amount of salt we all eat will also help reduce cases of stroke and heart attack, as well as other associated heart problems.
The salt reduction plan was an idea of Bloomberg’s and was announced a few months ago.
“We all consume way too much salt, and most of the salt we consume is in the food when we buy it,” said Dr. Thomas Farley, the city health commissioner, whose department is leading the effort. Eighty percent of the salt in Americans’ diets comes from packaged or restaurant food. Dr. Farley said reducing salt from those sources would save lives.
The NYC government and the mayor have come under some fire for this new effort, being criticized for being more like overbearing parents than governing officials with all of their health crusades.
This new salt-reduction effort may not go as planned, however. For one, there is no actual legislation forcing companies to reduce the amount of salt they put into their products. Also, it will require cooperation on a national level, as you cannot expect snack companies to reduce their sodium just for the New York market.
The city’s plan is for snack companies to reduce the amount of salt they put into their product gradually over the next five years, so that consumers can get used to it. This can be difficult because salt enhances flavor, extends shelf life and keeps food from spoiling.
The same thing happened when the city tried to ban trans fat. First, they called for voluntary compliance, and when that didn’t work, they passed legislation forcing companies to comply.
But passing legislation for salt reduction can be tricky. “There’s not an easy regulatory fix,” said Geoffrey Cowley, an associate health commissioner. “You would have to micromanage so many targets for so many different products.”
Officials are hoping that this will work through public pressure. Companies that comply will obviously get better press and good publicity as they as supposedly doing the city a healthy favor.
The city has been in talks with several companies in the last year and there are a few companies that do seem excited, including supermarket chain A&P. “We think it’s a very realistic set of criteria that our suppliers can adhere to,” said Douglas A. Palmer, vice president for store brands at A.& P.
Fast-food chain Subway is also on board with reducing the amount of salt in their sandwiches. Lanette R. Kovachi, Subway’s corporate dietitian, said the company has reduced salt in stores in several other countries, including Britain and Australia, in response to government programs there.
On Monday, after a year of consultations with industry, the city will release preliminary targets for sodium content. After a review, the city will unveil final targets in the spring and ask companies to commit to the program.
The system proposed by the city is complex, with reductions ranging from 10 to 40 percent for 61 classes of packaged foods and 25 classes of restaurant foods.