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Americans' Salt Intake Unchanged Over 50 Years
Date:10/20/2010

mained relatively constant for almost 50 years, their rates of high blood pressure and heart disease have increased in the past 20 years. But America's ever-rising obesity rates may play a more critical role in this rise than salt intake, the researchers said.

The study's main message "is that for all the intense effort to get Americans to limit their salt intake, the evidence suggests that this hasn't happened," said Dr. David McCarron, lead author of an accompanying journal editorial.

The average salt intake of the Americans in the Harvard study is similar to that found in international studies, the editorial said. This similarity suggests that humans may need a set amount of salt and are hard-wired to seek it, said McCarron, an adjunct professor with the department of nutrition at University of California-Davis.

McCarron led a 2009 study that analyzed urine samples in 19,151 people in 33 countries over a 24-year period. The average daily sodium intake was 3,726 milligrams a day, even across diverse populations and diets, and with no evidence of change over time. In a 12-year study of more than 13,000 people from Switzerland, also published in 2009, people averaged around 3,680 milligrams a day. "It's spooky how consistent this number is," said McCarron.

In light of these studies, the editorial said, the government should limit its sodium guidelines to those at risk for high blood pressure and heart disease rather than issue broad, one-size-fits-all guidelines for everyone. McCarron has consulted with the Salt Institute and the food industry in the past.

Fully 69 percent of American adults meet these risk guidelines, a 2009 study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found. These high-risk folks include people over 40, blacks, and those with slightly elevated blood pressure (pre-hypertension).

And there's a call to do more to get Americans to ease up on salt. In April, a report by the Institute of Medicine c
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