The government regulates many substances that are hazardous to public health, and puts conspicuous health warnings on others.
What about sodium?
In a recent editorial for article for a publication health site Nutrition Action, a division , Michael F. Jacobson, editor for Center for Science in the Public Interest and author of numerous books and reports including Nutrition Scoreboard, Six Arguments for a Greener Diet, “Salt: the Forgotten Killer,” and “Liquid Candy: How Soft Drinks are Harming Americans’ Health.”suggests a few ways that governments might be able to make changes in the area of sodium reduction.
Jacobson is quick to note that there is also responsibility among consumers (to read food labels and monitor their own sodium consumption) and the food industry (to voluntarily lower sodium levels). But, he maintains, government has a key role to play.
Here are some of Jacobson’s suggestions:
1. Regulated sodium limits
“The most effective way to reduce sodium,” Jacobson writes, would be for government health authorities “to set sodium limits for categories of processed foods that are the biggest sources of sodium.” Giving companies several years to comply would allow them to take the time necessary to make changes to their products without causing industry upheaval.
Jacobson proposes that governments “should require attention-getting symbols on the fronts of packages of high-sodium foods.” He further suggests that nutritional information on these foods should include the conspicuous slogan “High in Salt.” Even though most of our excess salt intake comes from sources other than our own salt shakers, Jacobson suggests that salt packages themselves could be labelled with information, in the interest of public awareness.
3. Public campaigns
No doubt aware that bringing on government regulation is an uphill battle, Jacobson writes that as an alternative, “officials should use their bully pulpits to prod manufacturers to voluntarily use less salt.” Looking across the pond for inspiration, he adds that “U.S. officials should copy their British counterparts’ aggressive strategy and set targets for various food categories, mount well-funded education campaigns, and publicly criticize unresponsive companies.”
Jacobson and his group have their work cut out for them, especially in the free market-friendly and regulation-suspicious USA. (One of the comments on his story simply grumbles, “get the government the hell out of my life.”)
But the tide may be turning. As Jacobson has noted in a previous article, several companies have already taken the initiative to voluntarily reduce their sodium content. And with more and more awareness about public health (from the First Lady on down), it might just be the right time to engage in this battle worth fighting.