Friday, May 13, 2011

Say What?

Last week, discussing the Federal Trade Commission's call for slashing the sodium content of food marketed to children, I noted that the scientific case for population-wide reductions in salt consumption is pretty shaky. A new study in The Journal of the American Medical Association reinforces that point. The researchers, led by Jan Staessen, a professor of medicine at the University of Leuven in Belgium, tracked 3,681 middle-aged Europeans for an average of eight years, measuring their daily sodium intake through urine collected at the beginning and the end of the study. None of the subjects had high blood pressure or cardiovascular disease at the outset. But over the course of the study, those who consumed less salt were more likely to die of heart disease: There were 50 such deaths in the lowest third, compared to 24 in the middle third and 10 in the highest third. The subjects who consumed more salt did have slightly higher blood pressure, but they were no more likely to develop hypertension. "If the goal is to prevent hypertension" by reducing sodium consumption, Staessen told The New York Times, "this study shows it does not work."

This is the next boondoggle from "public health authorities."  What are public health authorities?  Folks who's job it is to think of ways that they can use the coercive power of the government to enforce their will upon you for your own good.  These people need pets and children, vice jobs in the government. 

As regards salt, there's little doubt that coercive government interference in salt intakes will not help most of us live longer or better; the science on the topic is at best unclear, and if anything, the science shows that salt does not cause disease, though it can exacerbate disease in those that already have given themselves high blood pressure.  Shaky science didn't stop the saturated fat fiasco, so I don't expect that it will stop the salt nazis either.

Michael Alderman, who edits the American Journal of Hypertension, also worries that sharply reducing sodium intake, while good advice for people with high blood pressure, could raise the risk of cardiovascular disease in the rest of the population, perhaps by increasing insulin resistance. His own research has generated  results similar to Staessen's. "Diet is a complicated business," he told the Times. "There are going to be unintended consequences."

This is why the standards for government intervention as regards diet should be very, very high.  A government bureaucrat with good intentions and half baked science should not have the power to dictate anything to anyone, nor to issue dietary guidelines that government agencies are bound by.

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