Member Research and Reports

Member Research and Reports

UNC Study: Initiatives to Reduce Salt in Packaged Foods Have Worked, But More Can Be Done

A new study by researchers at the University of North Carolina’s Gillings School of Global Public Health finds that Americans are getting significantly less sodium from packaged foods than they did 15 years ago – but they still take in too much salt from these products.

[Photo by Phillip Stewart]

Dr. Jennifer Poti, research assistant professor of nutrition at the Gillings School, is lead author of the article, published June 5 in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine.

Consuming too much salt has placed Americans, including children, at risk for hypertension and cardiovascular disease. In response, food manufacturers have begun initiatives to decrease sodium in packaged foods, but prior to the current study, no evaluations were made as to the effectiveness of these initiatives.

Dr. Poti and colleagues studied a nationwide sample of more than 170,000 households in the United States between 2000 and 2014. The shoppers were part of the Nielsen Homescan Consumer Panel, a population-based sample of households that used barcode scanners to record the purchase of all packaged foods and beverages at retail grocery outlets.

Using nutrition label data for about 1.5 million food products, the researchers found that the amount of sodium purchased from packaged food sources decreased by 396 mg/day between 2000 and 2014. During the same period, sodium content decreased by 12 percent for packaged foods overall and decreased significantly for all top food sources of sodium.

Still, more than 98 percent of households had total packaged food and beverage purchases with excessive sodium density. Study findings suggest that food manufacturers should be more vigilant in reducing sodium in packaged foods and consumers in reducing sodium in their daily diets.

“We did see significant improvements during the past 15 years in the sodium content of packaged foods that U.S. households bought at the grocery store – but, progress has been slow and sodium levels remain too high,” Dr. Poti said. “These findings strongly support the need to finalize and implement the sodium reduction targets for packaged foods proposed by the FDA.”

Co-authors of the study are Dr. Elizabeth Dunford, postdoctoral fellow in nutrition, and Dr. Barry M. Popkin, W.R. Kenan Jr. Distinguished Professor of nutrition, both at the Gillings School.

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