Lobby Group Puts the “Salt” Back in Salt Lake City (and School Lunches)

, senior analyst, Food and Environment | July 13, 2015, 4:19 pm EDT
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Today we continue our look at the School Nutrition Association’s silliest excuses for rolling back healthy school lunch rules (see last week’s Part 1 and Part 2). As the association’s leaders and members hob-nob with their food industry benefactors in the land of the Great Salt Lake, I thought it would be appropriate to look at SNA’s statements on sodium.

Excuse #3: Lowering sodium levels at school may harm kids

That’s right, SNA is telling Congress that America’s kids are at some risk of harm from reduced sodium levels in school foods. Back in March, while hosting their annual legislative conference here in Washington DC, SNA tweeted the comments of conference speaker Dr. Robert P. Heaney:

Do we want our body to have to continually compensate for low sodium? Or have an intake that is appropriate?

CC image courtesy of Karyn Christner/Flickr

CC image courtesy of Karyn Christner/Flickr

Really? Low sodium is a risk for today’s kids? Not according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which have found that 90 percent of U.S. children ages 6-18 eat too much sodium daily.

This is an issue because in implementing the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 (HHFKA), USDA rules required schools to reduce sodium levels in school breakfast and lunch in a step-wise fashion over ten years. Schools had to meet the so-called Target 1 level for sodium during the past academic year; implementation of Target 2 levels is due in 2017-18 and final sodium reductions in 2022-23.

That’s a pretty long time-horizon, and it’s worth noting that it’s less aggressive than what the national Institute of Medicine recommended in 2009.

Still, SNA has lobbied Congress for a rule change that would keep sodium levels at Target 1 indefinitely. And in its recent white paper on sodium targets, SNA says “the ubiquity of sodium in the diet of children” and “the preference for salty foods” creates “substantial challenges” for schools. In other words, don’t ask us to do hard things.

Kids aren’t adults (but they will be someday!)

SNA’s white paper also reviews the scientific literature on sodium intake and health impacts. Many of the studies they cite focus on adults, but they also reviewed some studies that looked at kids. Their conclusion? Children aren’t at risk of hypertension from too much sodium.

The American Heart Association has challenged that notion, but even if sodium doesn’t pose a major health risk during childhood, isn’t that kind of beside the point? After all, children grow up to be adults, who are then at greater risk of diet-related hypertension. And studies like this one show that what people eat as children shapes their taste preferences and eating habits as adults.

Meanwhile, this CDC infographic includes a Top 10 list of foods that contribute to sodium in children’s diets. Unsurprisingly, that list includes pizza, cold cuts, “savory snacks” (I’m looking at you, Reduced Fat Nacho Cheese Doritos), and chicken nuggets.

Now, who would want to keep those foods in schools? SNA’s corporate sponsors, perhaps?

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  • kstillerman

    Morton, thanks for reading. You’ve made a lot of charges in
    your comment, but I’ll focus on your suggestion that I didn’t “do my homework.”
    Though I enjoy salt as much as the next person (okay, maybe more), I’m not an
    expert on sodium in the diet. So I looked at what the Centers for Disease
    Control and Prevention (CDC), the American Heart Association (AHA), and the
    American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) have to say on the subject of sodium in children’s diets specifically. All agree that the sodium intake levels of today’s kids are too high, putting them at risk for adverse health impacts during childhood or
    beyond. (See http://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/children-sodium/
    from CDC, http://www.heart.org/idc/groups/heart-public/@wcm/@adv/documents/downloadable/ucm_433027.pdf
    from AHA, and https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/pages/Sodium-Intake-Influences-Childrens-Blood-Pressure-Levels.aspx
    from AAP.)

    I understand that as vice president of the Salt Institute, you
    have a different perspective, but I’ll stick with the CDC, AAP, and AHA for
    now.

  • Morton Satin

    Really? A blog on independent science and practical solutions? Karen, why don’t you look at the peer reviewed evidence? You’re not independent at all – you have simply taken the propaganda of establishment advocates on salt reduction rather than the evidence. You are part of the problem – certainly not a practical solution. Take the time to do your own homework before charging in with a hackneyed criticism that, as always serves no one. Take the time to read Robert Bayer’s criticism of the establishment’s misrepresentation of salt reduction as a benefit, despite all evidence to the contrary. The establishment argument for salt reduction has long been shown to be false -the only reason it continues is because they have no idea how to get out of the folly they got themselves into in the first place -institutional hubris – they same reason it took 30 years to backtrack on fat! Independent science indeed!

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