Why Too Much Dietary Salt Can Impact Productivity

Posted July 6, 2016

Promoting smoking cessation, exercise and weight loss if needed are all well-known strategies that can improve employee health and, in turn, absenteeism, disability and health care costs. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report released earlier this year concludes it’s time to encourage people to consume less salt (sodium chloride).

Almost 90% of Americans eat too much sodium daily, even if they never pick up a saltshaker. That’s because most excess sodium is hidden in fast and processed foods. However it gets into food, too much of it is putting the health of millions at risk, according to the CDC.

About 70 million American adults have high blood pressure and only half have it under control. That raises their risk for heart disease, stroke and other ills that take the lives of more than 800,000 Americans each year. The economic toll, as well as the personal suffering, is enormous. Cardiovascular disease costs the nation $320 billion a year in health care costs and lost productivity.

Reducing the consumption of salt can lower blood pressure as well as the risk of heart disease and related serious illnesses. That’s why it’s important for health care providers and employers to get the word out that too much salt in the diet is potentially harmful.

“Sodium reduction is a key part of preventing heart disease and stroke,” said Sandra Jackson, PhD, an epidemiologist in the CDC’s Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention. “Reducing sodium is an achievable and effective strategy to improve heart health for everyone, but it’s going to take all of us working together to make it possible.”

To calculate how much sodium Americans are consuming, CDC researchers analyzed dietary data from 15,000 participants in the 2009-2012 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). The results showed few Americans follow the latest federal dietary recommendations that recommend limiting sodium to fewer than 2,300 mg per day for people older than 14 (less for younger children).

More findings from the CDC

• Little has changed in sodium consumption in the past decade. About 90% of white adults and 85% of African Americans still consume too much salt.

• Men (98%) typically consume even more excess salt than women, although 80% of women also take in too much.

• Three out of 4 people with the highest risk of developing cardiovascular disease and stroke — including those age 51 and older, African Americans and individuals who already have high blood pressure or prehypertension (blood pressure higher than normal but not technically hypertensive) — were found to consume more than the recommended 2,300 mg of sodium per day.

• Adults diagnosed with hypertension consume a little less sodium than other adults. CDC researchers noted this may indicate they are trying to follow their health care provider’s advice to reduce sodium. The bottom line, however, is that 86% of adults with high blood pressure still have too much salt in their diets.

“The finding that 9 of 10 adults and children still consume too much salt is alarming,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH. “The evidence is clear: Too much sodium in our foods leads to high blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Reducing sodium in manufactured and restaurant foods will give consumers more choice and save lives.”

The CDC provides information on how to avoid excessive salt in the diet, including tips on avoiding processed food and restaurant meals that may be loaded with sodium.

The Department of Health and Human Services Million Hearts website provides low-sodium, heart-healthy recipes and meal plans that can be shared with employees via company websites and newsletters to encourage the adoption of a reduced-salt diet. — Sherry Baker