frozen dinnerAmericans are eating too much sodium, and something must be done about it. That's the response of the American Heart Association (AHA) to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showing that 98% of Americans in high risk groups -- like African-Americans and those with hypertension, diabetes and chronic disease -- are consuming more than the 1500 mg of salt they should be limiting themselves to.

AHA president Gordon Tomaselli, M.D., said his organization believes the CDC report is "too conservative" in its estimate. “With the direct and indirect costs of cardiovascular disease already at $444 billion a year and rising, and with high blood pressure the single largest driver of those costs, this suggestion doesn’t go far enough to address either the human or economic burden that our excessive intake of salt costs. Other countries have realized this and are addressing it aggressively.” The AHA says that the daily intake of sodium for all American adults, not just those at risk, should be limited to 1500 mg.

“Given that most of us – as many as 90% - will develop high blood pressure with age, we all should be consuming less than 1500 mg a day of sodium, unless your healthcare provider has told you that this doesn’t apply to you,” says Clyde Yancy, M.D., former American Heart Association president and the Magerstadt professor of medicine and chief of the division of cardiology; Northwestern University, Feinberg School of Medicine; Chicago, Illinois.

People who don’t currently have high blood pressure may be able to prevent it or blunt the rise in blood pressure that accompanies aging by lowering their sodium intake and achieving that limit.
The group is calling for fundamental changes in both public policy and the food industry, which it admits will not be easy. With more than 75% of the sodium Americans consume coming from packaged or prepared foods and restaurant meals, reducing sodium in those products could achieve significant results.

"Americans deserve the freedom to choose how much sodium they eat—and with the levels of sodium currently so high in the food supply, that choice has been taken away," according to the AHA.

The association estimates that bringing the majority of Americans into the 1500mg daily sodium intake limit would save $24 billion in health care costs per year.