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Julie Gunlock  |  01/25/2012

Julie Gunlock’s picture

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Misguided FDA Food Regulations Will Hike Costs, Not Safety

The FDA takes a closer look at sodium and advertising

This year will mark another push for aggressive food regulation at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). On tap, salt regulations and industrywide regulations dictating which foods can be advertised on television.

In October 2011, the FDA announced in the Federal Register that it would begin accepting comments on “approaches to reducing sodium consumption.” The announcement cited 2005 medical studies’ findings that excess sodium consumption is a contributory factor in the development of hypertension. Yet studies conducted subsequent to that 2005 study came to different conclusions.

For instance, in 2006, the American Journal of Medicine published a study of 78 million Americans. It found that the more sodium people ate, the less likely they were to die from heart disease. In 2007, a study published in the European Journal of Epidemiology found no association between urinary sodium levels and the risk of coronary vascular disease or death. Most recently, in 2011, researchers in the United Kingdom reviewed data from seven studies with more than 6,200 participants who reduced their salt intake. The results showed that while eating less salt did lower blood pressure, it did not reduce the risk of dying or of having heart disease.

Even the relationship between salt and hypertension has been questioned. A recent study published in the science journal Nature suggests genetics, not diet, is the major contributor to hypertension. Another study in 2011 suggested that obesity, not salt, determines an individual’s blood pressure. Clearly, the science is not settled on salt. Therefore, individuals—not government regulators—need to make decisions about their own diets.

The FDA’s call for regulation also suggests that the food industry isn’t responding to consumer demand for lower sodium food products. This simply isn’t true. From potato chips to tomato sauce, consumers can choose a variety of low-salt and even no-salt items. In other words, the market is working to meet the health needs of the American consumer.

The FDA is also interested in regulating how the food industry advertises its food products. Reducing childhood obesity is a top priority for the Obama Administration, and regulating how food is marketed to children is one method the administration feels will accomplish this goal.

In the spring of 2011, an interagency working group made up of four federal agencies (including the FDA) issued recommendations on what food products can be advertised on television during children’s programming.

Many viewed this regulation as unnecessary because food advertising during children’s programs has already declined 50 percent between 2004 and 2010. In addition, 17 of the leading food companies (which represent more than three-quarters of the products advertised to children under 12) have signed the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative pledge to only advertise healthy foods.

Despite these voluntary efforts on the part of industry, the working group developed a set of extremely stringent “nutrition principles” under which a food must fit in order to be allowed to advertise. Yet nearly every type of food a child might enjoy (even foods parents generally consider healthy) failed to meet these new guidelines. Items like milk, cheese, crackers, yogurt, bottled water, and canned soups would have been banned from television advertising.

Responding to outcry from the food industry (and consumers), Congress included a provision in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012 requiring the working group to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of its proposed regulations. While this news was met with some relief by the food industry, the FDA will still likely pursue some form of advertising regulations on food manufacturers in 2012.

Those advocating regulations on the food industry—on specific ingredients and marketing—believe these measures will result in healthier Americans. Yet it is doubtful that they will impact anyone’s real food choices. Instead they will hike food costs as companies work to satisfy government regulators by overhauling their products.

This article first appeared on the AssurX blog.

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About The Author

Julie Gunlock’s picture

Julie Gunlock

Julie Gunlock is a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum. Gunlock received her bachelor degree in political science from St. Mary's College of Maryland. She has written about food and culture for the Washington Post, the Washington Examiner, and National Review.

Comments

Story of the Week?

I'm disappointed that this story was one of the "stories of the week." It's poorly referenced (actually, no citations at all), and appears to be politically motivated; and, in any case has nothing to do with Quality. The statement that "the science is not in" on Sodium is an appeal to those who don't understand the scientific method. I would hope that the readers of Quality Digest are beyond such fallacies.

Junk Science

For the life of me I couldn't understand why the article above was published on a website devoted to quality.  Then I realize that it was an object lesson in evaluating the source of your data. Since the author, like the rest of the folks at the IWF (bless their hearts!) is a little "lite" on the facts, I thought I would do an Independent Gal a favor and spent some time trying to track down the studies she mentions on salt consumption.  I found the following:

"in 2006, the American Journal of Medicine published a study of 78 million Americans" Sodium Intake and Mortality in the NHANES II Follow-up Study. Cohen, HW et al. Department of Epidemiology and Population Health, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY The American Journal of Medicine Volume 119, Issue 3, Pages 275.e7-275.e14, March 2006

"In 2007, a study published in the European Journal of Epidemiology found no association between urinary sodium levels and the risk of coronary vascular disease or death" Well 2011 & in JAMA but: Fatal and nonfatal outcomes, incidence of hypertension, and blood pressure changes in relation to urinary sodium excretion. Stolarz-Skrzypek K, et al. European Project on Genes in Hypertension (EPOGH) Investigators. Studies Coordinating Centre, Division of Hypertension and Cardiovascular Rehabilitation, Department of Cardiovascular Diseases, University of Leuven, Leuven, Belgium. JAMA 2011 May 4;305(17):1777-85.

"in 2011, researchers in the United Kingdom reviewed data from seven studies with more than 6,200 participants who reduced their salt intake. The results showed that while eating less salt did lower blood pressure, it did not reduce the risk of dying or of having heart disease." Reduced dietary salt for the prevention of cardiovascular disease (Review) Taylor RS, Ashton KE, Moxham T, Hooper L, Ebrahim S The Cochrane Library 2011, Issue 7

"A recent study published in the science journal Nature suggests genetics, not diet, is the major contributor to hypertension." Possibly? But have to purchase:  Salt wasting and blood pressure Olivier Devuyst, Division of Nephrology, Université catholique de Louvain Medical School, B-1200 Brussels, Belgium. Nature Genetics 40, 495 - 496 (2008)

"Another study in 2011 suggested that obesity, not salt, determines an individual’s blood pressure." Another possible but from 2010 and shown only in mouse cells: Medical College of Georgia (2010, June 17). Connection elucidated between obesity, salt sensitivity and high blood pressure.

You are free to look these up and draw your own conclusions.  A couple interesting things:

--The Cochrane review as noted above does not actually state that eating less salt does not reduce the risk of CVD or mortality, it said that there were not sufficient data to demonstrate this.  Which is something else entirely.  The authors recommend a patient sample of at least 18000 to be able to draw such a conclusion.

-- If you try to Google the sources you get a lot of hits from the Salt Institute...hmmm

--The author is part of the IWF, whose new push this year is "Today the Independent Women's Forum (IWF) launches a new initiative to reign(sic--or maybe they do want to reign) in government. The IWF Women for Food Freedom project is an effort to push back on the nanny state and encourage personal responsibility so that individuals are allowed to choose the food that's best for them and their families."  Which may be an elegant way of stating that the conclusions are predetermined so the data will be selected to fit.

So consider the source of your data!

 

Context, context, context...

Michael Alderman, a highly regarded epidemiologist and past president of The American Society of Hypertension, participated in a very enlightening interview on the subject. Well worth the time.

References?

I'd like to see references to those two papers. Most of the papers I have access to on this subject come to the conclusion that excessive sodium IS harmful, and list 25-30 supporting papers in their bibliographies. I'd like to see the actual journal articles.

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