By reducing salt in processed foods could prevent strokes and heart attacks and also save billions of dollars in medical costs, a new study has found.
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 percent 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.