Mayor Michael Bloomberg may want Americans to slash their sodium intake, but when it comes to his own diet, it’s “do as I say, not as I do.”
“I use a lot of salt,” the mayor admitted Monday at a news conference announcing the national salt shakedown. “The truth of the matter is that’s relatively insignificant compared to the amount of salt in the foods you buy already processed.”
And so hizzoner Monday launched the city’s war against sodium in packaged and restaurant foods, an initiative that targets the very bacon, hot dogs and Cheez-Its he’s reputed to enjoy. The initiative is not aimed at Bloomberg’s beloved table salt.
Under Bloomberg, the city health department has already banned trans fats at restaurants, forced chain eateries to post calorie counts and hung graphic ads on the subway condemning sugary drinks. Now, Gotham is teaming with other major cities and health organizations to ask the food industry to voluntarily slash sodium by 25 percent. The ultimate goal would be for the average American to have reduced their salt intake by 20 percent in the next five years.
The city is trying to save lives, hoping to reduce incidences of high blood pressure and heart disease.
“It’s definitely very achievable,” said Christine Johnson, nutrition policy manager with the health department. “It gives companies time to adjust their reformulation and to think about what they can really to do make reductions.”
The food industry will cooperate because it worked with the city to set the reduction targets, Johnson said. The city already has firm commitments from cities such as Los Angeles and Chicago, the federal government, and groups such as the American Heart Association. Companies such as Sara Lee and Campbell Soup have already begun sodium-reduction campaigns.
The city will track its progress by testing the urine of a population sample and monitoring a national database of processed foods that have been sold, Johnson said.
The Salt Institute, which represents U.S. salt distributors, said it’s not that easy. “A 25 percent reduction is huge, and you can’t do that without affecting your sales and affecting your taste and affecting the quality,” said spokeswoman Lori Roman.
“Picking one nutrient and focusing on it, rather than focusing on an overall diet, is misplaced time, energy and money,” she said, adding that Mediterranean diets — though high in sodium — are healthy and rich in vegetables.
Bloomberg on Monday said calorie counting is at the center of his health regime. “I read labels for the calories more so than the salt, sodium content, I will admit,” he said. “Whether it’s helped my waistline is debatable — actually, yeah I’m pretty much at an all-time low so I guess you can say that’s part of it.”
Additional food companies and others have three weeks to weigh in on the city’s proposed targets before they are adopted in the spring.
Jason Fink contributed to this story.