New York City Mayor Bloomberg and his administration have strong opinions about what the citizens of his city eat and drink. In 2007, they banned the use of trans fats in restaurants. Last year, a soda tax (some people refer to is as a fat tax) was proposed along with an ad campaign that tried to gross out New Yorkers in hopes of keeping them away from soda.

Now, the Bloomberg administration is going after the salt content of food in both restaurants and grocery stores. Over the weekend the New York Times reported the city has a “broad new health initiative aimed at encouraging food manufacturers and restaurant chains across the country to curtail the amount of salt in their products.”

The goal is to get food producers to reduce the amount of salt in prepared and packaged foods by 20 percent over the next five years. The city can’t legislate this reduction in salt, but it is proposing what it calls the National Salt Reduction Initiative (NSRI).

The initiative is being modeled on a similar program in the United Kingdom. There, the salt levels have been reduced by 40 percent by manufacturers.

Why, exactly is the city going after salt?

  • Diets high in salt increase blood pressure, a leading risk factor for heart attacks and stroke. 
  • These conditions cause 23,000 deaths in New York City alone each year — more than 800,000 nationwide — and cost Americans billions in health care expenses.
  • Most Americans eat almost twice the recommended limit of salt each day. 
  • Even people with normal blood pressure benefit from lowering their salt intake.
There will be those who are going to argue that it’s not the government's place to try to influence salt intake. Last week, when Michael Pollan was on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Stewart commented to Pollan about whether “stepping into people’s kitchens, giving them the choice of what they can and cannot eat” may be the largest infringement on people that the government may ever attempt.

I liked Pollan’s response. He said that it’s interesting that we would resent the government saying “maybe don’t have 240 pounds of sugar a year … but we don’t resent it when your doctor says your on Lipitor for the rest of your life.”

My husband and I were discussing what Pollan said the other night before I had read anything about NYC’s salt initiative. On the whole, as a nation we have become very comfortable with managing things like high blood pressure, diabetes or other ailments that are related to our food intake with prescription drugs instead of doing the harder task of changing our diets. It’s become our “right” to be able to eat anything we want.

I think we are only beginning to see the effects of clinging to this “right.” It’s going to take changes at all levels — from government encouraging changes like this salt initiative to individuals taking responsibility and doing the harder work of changing what they eat — to get us to realize that it may be our “right” but that doesn’t mean it’s good for us and our children.

Tomorrow, I’m going to write more about doing the harder work of changing the salt in our personal diets. It’s something that is happening in my house right now, and it’s not as simple as I thought it was going to be.

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

New York City goes after salt
Bloomberg administration wants to see a 20 percent reduction amount of salt in prepared or packaged foods.