Surprising Study Findings: How Cutting Salt Intake Affects Healthcare Costs

May 7, 2018

How would the FDA proposal to reduce the amount of salt in people’s diets affect healthcare costs? Find out.

An FDA policy targeted to reduce salt intake could generate big health gains and save money, according to a new study.

The study, published in PLOS Medicine, aimed to measure the potential health and economic impacts of the FDA’s proposed voluntary sodium reduction goals targeting processed and commercially prepared foods, if it were successfully implemented. According to the FDA, approximately 75% of total sodium intake comes from processed and commercially prepared foods.

The FDA aims to reduce the average sodium intake from 3.4 grams to just 2.3 grams per day, supporting consumers to make healthy dietary choices and encouraging manufacturers to put less sodium in prepared foods, with measurable two-year and 10-year voluntary targets to reduce the average and upper range of sodium content in a range of foods.

Researchers from Imperial College London, University of Liverpool, and Tufts University modeled and compared the potential effects of three scenarios of the policy over a 20-year period with:

  • 100% adherence by the food manufacturers with the FDA’s 10-year targets.
  • 50% adherence to the 10-year targets; and
  • 100% adherence to two-year targets but with no further sodium reduction.

They found that the ideal scenario, 100% compliance with the 10-year FDA targets, could prevent approximately 450,000 cardiovascular disease cases, as well as lead to a gain of 2 million quality-adjusted life years  and produce discounted cost savings of approximately $40 billion over a 20-year period (2017 to 2036). 

In contrast, the modest scenario, 50% compliance of the 10-year targets, and the pessimistic scenario, 100% compliance of the two-year targets but no further progress, could yield health a half and a quarter of the economic gains approximately, respectively. 

“This study highlights the potential for substantial health and economic gains from relatively modest changes in diet consumption across the whole population,” says lead author Jonathan Pearson-Stuttard, an NIHR Academic Clinical Fellow from the School of Public Health at Imperial College London.

 

 

“From an employer perspective, it highlights the importance of the health of the workforce including from an economic perspective, cost to industry and the wider economy of preventable ill health,” he says. “From a healthcare provider perspective, this serves as a reminder of the importance of educating patients of the importance of a healthy diet, and modest consumption of sodium a key part of that-such changes could prevent substantial numbers of cardiovascular disease events, and healthcare costs associated with these.”

This study should emphasize the importance of prevention through modifying lifestyle within any health economy through benefits to patients and healthcare provider alike, according to Pearson-Stuttard.