Study examines U.S. consumers’ attitudes over time about actions or policies to limit sodium in a range of food environments

What is already known?

Excessive sodium consumption is a major risk factor for high blood pressure. High blood pressure is related to heart disease and stroke, two of the leading causes of death in the United States. The average daily intake of sodium among U.S. adults is more than 3,400 milligrams (mg) per day, excluding salt added at the table. This is more than 1,000 mg higher than current sodium recommendations of less than 2,300 mg per day. Although nearly half of adults report taking actions to reduce their sodium intake, voluntary initiatives that focus on individual sodium education and behaviors have not significantly lowered population sodium intake.

Because most sodium consumed comes from commercially processed and prepared foods, in 2010, the Institute of Medicine recommended government action to reduce sodium in the U.S. food supply. Reducing sodium calls for a multifaceted approach that includes the collaboration of food manufacturers, industry and vendors, and local policies. Consumer agreement with such broad-based actions could suggest support for sodium reduction in manufactured and prepared foods.

What does this article add?

To our knowledge, this is the first article to examine changes in U.S. consumers’ attitudes over time about actions or policies to limit sodium across a range of food environments:

  • Approximately half of consumers agree that it is a good idea to have broad-based actions limiting sodium use in restaurants (46%) and manufactured foods (57%). Attitudes did not change between 2012 and 2015.
  • Between 2012 and 2015, the number of respondents who supported environment-specific policies to lower sodium in school cafeterias, workplace cafeterias, and quick-serve restaurants increased significantly. Overall, more than 75% of respondents supported policies to reduce or limit sodium in these food outlets.
  • Increased support for environment-specific policies was evident among people who were middle-aged or older, non-Hispanic whites, people earning $40,000 or more per year, college-educated individuals, people without hypertension, and people who wanted to eat a diet low in sodium.
  • Agreement with broad-based policies to limit sodium was as much as 40 percentage points lower than the percentage agreeing to support environment-specific policies to limit sodium.

What are the implications of these findings?

In both 2012 and 2015, there was steady support for actions to limit sodium in commercially processed and prepared foods, with most consumers supporting actions to lower sodium in foods served in schools, workplaces, and quick-serve restaurants. Consumer agreement and support of policies reducing sodium in these environments increased between 2012 and 2015, and this study suggests potentially greater support for policies that limit sodium in foods sold within specific food environments.

Citation

Odom EC, Whittick C, Tong X, John KA, Cogswell ME. Changes in consumer attitudes toward broad-based and environment-specific sodium policies—SummerStyles surveys 2012 and 2015External. Nutrients 2017;9(8):836.