Sixteen leading US food companies have joined a health initiative to reduce salt levels in restaurants and meals by 25 percent by 2014, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced Monday.
"By working together over the past two years, we have been able to accomplish something many said was impossible -- setting concrete, achievable goals for salt reduction," Bloomberg told reporters at a news conference where he was flanked by top health representatives.
"The National Salt Reduction Initiative has the potential to save tens of thousands of lives that otherwise would be lost to cardiovascular disease in coming years," he added.
The initiative -- which now includes 18 national health organizations and leading food companies such as Heinz, Kraft, Starbucks, Subway and Mars Food -- has taken on fresh impetus with health officials citing the higher risk of heart attack and stroke due to salt intake.
A report commissioned by Congress two years ago and released last week found that on average Americans consume more than 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day, whereas official US guidelines recommend no more than 2,300 milligrams of salt.
"Reducing salt intake has been a public health priority for decades," said New York City health director Thomas Farley.
"We can now say we are taking the first steps to achieve it. This was made possible because of agencies and organizations that have joined to make this a truly national initiative... we look forward to expanding the industry's participation in this vital public health effort," he said.
Reducing sodium intake, the Congress-commissioned report said, could prevent more than 100,000 deaths a year.
Studies have also found around 80 percent of sodium is added to foods before they are sold -- not from adding salt to food at time of eating.