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Salt is New York Citys new public-health enemy

Published: Dec 2, 2015 9:33 a.m. ET


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Shutterstock.com / BillionPhotos.com
By
MARIA
LAMAGNA
REPORTER
Starting on Dec. 1, diners in New York City are seeing a new symbol on
menus.
It becomes the first city in the U.S. to require chain restaurants to post the
symbol a salt shaker inside a black triangle next to individual menu
items that contain more than the total daily recommended limit of sodium,
which is 2,300 milligrams, or about one teaspoon.
The new labeling applies to restaurants with 15 or more locations nationwide
and was passed unanimously by the New York City Board of Health on Sept.
9. About 10% of menu items in these restaurants will require the salt-shaker
labeling, according to the New York City Department of Health and Mental
Hygiene. Restaurants that dont comply with the new policy will start to be
penalized starting March 1, 2016.
Jim OHara, the director of health-promotion policy at the Center for Science
in the Public Interest, a Washington-based nonprofit and consumer advocacy
group, said he is hopeful the labeling will lead to a reduced-sodium diet for
those purchasing food in New York. Were encouraging health departments
from Boston to San Francisco and everywhere in between to follow New York
Citys lead, he said.
New York has pioneered health initiatives in the past, including former Mayor
Michael Bloombergs attempt to ban the sale of sugary drinks in cups or
containers larger than 16 ounces (an initiative that the New York State
Supreme Court declared invalid in 2013).
New York, under Bloomberg in 2002, implemented a ban on smoking in bars
and restaurants; California had already eliminated smoking in bars
statewide. In 2006, the citys Board of Health banned the use of artificial
transfats and required calorie counts to be posted at chain restaurants,
making New York the first city to institute such a requirement.

(Full disclosure: The author of this article is a former employee of Bloomberg


LP.)
In July, when the labeling rules were still a proposal, some restaurant groups
criticized the idea, especially because of the money and effort involved in
the revamping of restaurant menus. They also pointed to conflicting research
about how much salt is healthy.
A high level of sodium in ones diet has been linked to health issues including
higher blood pressure, which puts people at risk for cardiovascular disease.
According to a report in the New England Journal of Medicine, 99.2% of the
adult population worldwide in 2010 consumed more salt than the World
Health Organization recommends.
About 80% of the salt in a typical diet comes from food made outside the
home, including restaurant menu items, processed and packaged foods. Only
about 10% comes from added salt during cooking or at the table.
And about 40% of that sodium comes from 10 specific foods, according to
the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: breads and rolls; cold
cuts and cured meats; pizza; fresh and processed poultry; soups;
sandwiches; cheese; pasta dishes (not including macaroni and cheese, which
is its own category); meat-mixed dishes (such as meat loaf with tomato
sauce); and snacks, including chips, pretzels and popcorn.
Before the New York City rule took effect, Panera Bread PNRA, +0.29% on
Nov. 12 changed the recipes for three of its menu items that would have
been affected: the sourdough bread bowl, the bacon turkey Bravo
sandwich and the Italian combo sandwich. Now, there will be no menu items
that have to be labeled with the saltshaker symbol.