For Immediate Release: October 13, 2021 Statement by: Janet Woodcock, MD
Commissioner for Food and Drugs – Food and Drug Administration
Susan T. Mayne, Ph.D.
Director – Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN)
A cornerstone of the Food and Drug Administration’s public health mission is to reduce the burden of chronic diseases through improved diet. As a nation, we are facing a growing epidemic of preventable, diet-related diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity, and the Agency’s work in this area has become even more urgent. For these reasons, we are taking a critical step to further address preventable diet-related chronic diseases and advance health equity that we hope will become one of the most significant public health nutritional interventions in a generation.
Limiting certain nutrients such as sodium in our diets plays a vital role in preventing diseases such as high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease, which disproportionately affect racial and ethnic minorities; These diseases often result in hundreds of thousands of deaths and billions in annual healthcare costs. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated these health disparities and the need for improved diets, as people with cardiovascular disease and other underlying diseases are at increased risk of serious consequences from COVID-19.
For these reasons, we are taking a critical step to further address preventable diet-related chronic diseases and advance health equity that we hope will become one of the most significant public health nutritional interventions in a generation.
Today the FDA is issuing a final guideline, “Voluntary Sodium Reduction Goals: Target Mean and Upper Bound Concentrations for Sodium in Commercially Processed, Packaged, and Prepared Foods,” which provides voluntary short-term sodium reduction goals for food manufacturers and chain restaurants and food service providers for 163 categories of processed, Packaged and Prepared Food The Guidelines represent another step the Agency is taking to advance the government’s nationwide approach to nutrition and health and improve future health outcomes.
By limiting certain nutrients such as sodium in our diet, we can help prevent diseases such as high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease, which disproportionately affect ethnic and ethnic minorities and often result in hundreds of thousands of lives and billions in annual healthcare costs. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated these health disparities and the need for improved diets, as people with cardiovascular disease and other underlying diseases are at increased risk of serious consequences from COVID-19.
Research shows that people consume 50% more sodium than recommended. This includes our youngest and most vulnerable populations, with more than 95% of children ages 2 to 13 exceeding the recommended sodium limits for their age group. Although many consumers want to reduce their sodium intake, around 70% of the sodium we eat comes from packaged, processed, and restaurant foods, making it difficult to limit sodium. Changes in the overall food supply will facilitate access to lower-sodium options and reduce intake without changing behavior.
The goals of the final guidelines are to reduce average sodium intake over the next 2.5 years from about 3,400 milligrams (mg) to 3,000 mg per day, a reduction of about 12%. Although the average intake would still be above the limit of 2,300 mg per day recommended by the nutritional guidelines for Americans for those ages 14 and older, we know that even these modest reductions, made slowly over the next several years, will greatly reduce diet-related illnesses will.
The final guidelines outline short-term goals that we recommend the food industry achieve as soon as possible to help optimize public health. We will continue our discussions with the food industry as we monitor the sodium levels of the food supply to assess progress. For the future, we plan to issue revised, the following goals to gradually lower sodium levels and continue to contribute to reducing sodium intake. This iterative approach will help support the gradual reduction in sodium levels across the food supply so that consumer tastes adapt, health outcomes are improved, and no company or food category is singled out or reviewed. Such voluntary and step-by-step approaches have worked well in other countries such as Canada and the UK
In a draft guideline from 2016, we proposed recommendations for reducing sodium content for the first time. A number of food companies have already made changes to the sodium content in their products, which is encouraging, but additional support for all types of foods is needed to help consumers meet recommended sodium limits. Today, consumers can take steps to lower their sodium intake by reading food labels, including the nutrition label, asking for nutritional information at chain restaurants, choosing low-salt options, and talking to their health care providers about eating healthier foods.
The FDA is committed to using the tools at our disposal to do its part to create healthier food supplies, promote healthy habits early on, and empower consumers to make healthier food choices. We have already taken steps to reduce exposure to toxic elements in foods commonly consumed by babies and young children to the lowest possible level with our Closer to Zero Action Plan, and we have more work to do to achieve a similar one iterative process to use. Many of our federal, state, and local partners also have initiatives underway that support sodium reduction and help people achieve healthier eating habits overall. When we act together, we can have a profound impact on the health of millions of people.
The FDA, an agency of the US Department of Health, protects public health by ensuring the safety, efficacy, and safety of human and veterinary drugs, vaccines and other biological products for human use, and medical devices. The agency is also responsible for the safety of our country’s food supplies, cosmetics, dietary supplements, products that emit electronic radiation, and the regulation of tobacco products.