Changes in sodium levels in processed and restaurant foods, 2005 to 2011

JAMA Intern Med. 2013 Jul 22;173(14):1285-91. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.6154.


Importance: Excess consumption of sodium is an important cause of hypertension, a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. The higher the level of consumption, the greater is a person's likelihood of developing hypertension. Numerous organizations have recommended reductions in sodium intake in the United States. Roughly 80% of the sodium consumed by Americans has been added by food manufacturers and restaurants.

Objective: To compare the mean (SD) levels of sodium for identical products ascertained in 2005, 2008, and 2011.

Design and setting: Comparison study in an academic research setting.

Participants and exposures: Center for Science in the Public Interest staff have monitored sodium levels in selected processed foods and fast-food restaurant foods for many years.

Main outcomes and measures: The sodium content in identical foods, as measured in 2005, 2008, and 2011.

Results: Between 2005 and 2011, the sodium content in 402 processed foods declined by approximately 3.5%, while the sodium content in 78 fast-food restaurant products increased by 2.6%. Although some products showed decreases of at least 30%, a greater number of products showed increases of at least 30%. The predominant finding is the absence of any appreciable or statistically significant changes in sodium content during 6 years.

Conclusions and relevance: Based on our sample, reductions in sodium levels in processed and restaurant foods are inconsistent and slow. These findings are in accord with other data indicating the slow pace of voluntary reductions in sodium levels in processed and restaurant foods. Stronger action (eg, phased-in limits on sodium levels set by the federal government) is needed to lower sodium levels and reduce the prevalence of hypertension and cardiovascular diseases.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Fast Foods*
  • Humans
  • Nutrition Policy*
  • Public Health
  • Restaurants / statistics & numerical data*
  • Sodium, Dietary / analysis*
  • United States


  • Sodium, Dietary