The Obama Administration is putting forward new guideliness for salt intake. The guidelines are voluntary but fly in the face of a growing body of scientific research that finds that salt isn't so bad for us. And of course people need a certain level of salt intake to remain healthy.
Now, the Administration plans to release recommended voluntary targets for the level of sodium in processed foods early this summer. This is a long-awaited move apparently. The Administration launched a push to get Americans to reduce salt seven years ago, but that stalled when new studies questioning the health threat of salt emerged. Proponents and the White House nevertheless hope to get their anti-salt campaign back on track.
While the targets wouldn’t be mandatory, the food industry is voicing concern that this would (among other concerns) force them to replace salt with other chemicals to preserve taste and quality. Some groups also to point to voluntary reductions already made by food companies as evidence that new regulations are unnecessary.
In addition, given how fickle the scientific community is, they worry that new research may swing the pendulum of scientific consensus. They are right as Politico reports:
In 2011, a large study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that going below 3,000 milligrams of sodium per day — which the government recommends — was actually associated with an increased risk of death. Though previous studies had found a similar connection, none had used such a large sample size.
“There is absolutely no evidence to support the current recommendations,” said Andrew Mente, a researcher at McMaster University in Ontario who has published a significant body of research, including the JAMA study, questioning the long-held advice that people should reduce salt consumption to boost health.
Since then, prominent journals, including the New England Journal of Medicine, have continued to publish science suggesting that dramatically lowering salt intake might actually increase health risks…
Mente characterizes the sodium debate in personal and political terms. Scientists and policymakers who have staked their reputations on the need to lower salt consumption are standing firm, or “basically their entire legacy would be questioned,” he said.
Who do you believe? That boils down to which school of thought you fall into, but the larger question is whether public policy as sweeping as what the Obama Administration proposes ought to be made when the “experts” are in such conflict. This pendulum swinging is fun for researchers trying to make a name for themselves, but dizzying to the general public who only hear sound-bite news reports and start to change their behavior accordingly. That is personal choice. However, when policymakers run with questionable or conflicting data to advance an agenda through mandates (or even strong recommendations), we are all forced into compliance whether we agree with it or not.
As Julie Gunlock explained about dietary guidelines rules under discussion last year, the development of dietary guidelines should be occur outside of government and away from the political agenda of agencies involved in drafting them.
Washington doesn’t know what’s best for our bodies. The experts can rarely come to consensus before new evidence emerges to challenge the previous consensus, but by then cumbersome "protections" are in place.