The Agenda

On Salt Consumption and Mayor Bloomberg’s Public Health Initiatives

Though I’m not as exercised by Mayor Bloomberg’s ban on extra-large soda cups in New York city restaurants and concession stands as virtually everyone else on the Internet, I came across a glaring example of why a healthy skepticism towards centralized power is warranted. Sarah Kliff of the Washington Post recently offered a rundown of the Bloomberg administration’s central public health initiatives, including an effort to reduce salt consumption:

Proposes a voluntary effort on behalf of Americans’ food producers to reduce salt consumption by 20 percent.

POLICY: With Americans consuming twice the recommended levels of sodium — and sodium is associated with increased risk for high blood pressure — New York City launched in 2009 the National Salt Reduction Initiative. The initiative sets targets for sodium levels in 62 food categories and 25 types of restaurant foods.

IMPACT: If successful, a major push to reduce salt consumption could have a big health impact: If Americans reduced salt intake by 3 grams per day, one New England Journal of Medicine study projects it would prevent as many as 120,000 new, annual cases of cardiovascular heart disease. Whether this effort can produce such results remains unclear. Right now 35 food companies, places like Subway and Hostess food, have signed on to meet certain sodium targets in 2012 and 2014. A more aggressive proposal from New York State assemblyman Felix Ortiz, to ban salt in New York City restaurants, was quickly rejected.

There is a small problem, however. As Gary Taubes has recently argued, the evidence for the anti-salt crusade is extremely thin. Indeed, there is some reason to believe that Americans should actually increase salt consumption.

Funnily enough, Mayor Bloomberg is famously fond of salt, and he is known for heaping it on every meal. This could be why he is in quite good shape despite his advanced years and grueling work schedule. 

But will public health officials ever accept culpability for having damaged the health of thousands if not millions of New Yorkers? I doubt it. 

Reihan Salam is president of the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of National Review.

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