Small Dietary Changes Could Save Billions in Health Care Costs

By , SparkPeople Blogger
We all know that too much sodium is bad for your health. But did you know just how bad it is for our wallets? According to new research, if Americans could cut their sodium intake to the levels recommended by health experts, the country would save about $18 billion in annual health care costs.

The study, published in the journal American Journal of Health Promotion, found following sodium guidelines could eliminate 11 million cases of high blood pressure, improving the quality and life span of thousands of people each year. As many as 60 million Americans currently have this condition (about 1 in 4 adults.)

High levels of sodium can cause your body to retain fluids, which is especially dangerous for people with high blood pressure. Current recommendations are 2300 mg (or less) of sodium per day for the average person, and less if you have high blood pressure. 2300 mg might sound like a lot, but the average American adult consumes 2500-5000 mg per day. Even if you're not heavy-handed with the salt shaker, sodium is found in many other places- canned foods, condiments, frozen dinners, etc.

But reducing sodium intake isn't the only way to save on health care costs. According to the same study, "Reducing calorie consumption by 100kcal/day was projected to eliminate 71.2 cases of overweight or obesity and reduce medical costs $58 million per year. Reducing saturated fat consumption 5 grams/day among those with elevated cholesterol was projected to eliminate 3.9 cases of hyperlipidemia and reduce medical costs $2.0 billion per year."

Are you surprised that these small changes could have such a huge economic impact? Why or why not?

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i never add salt to my food Report
Is that 7.2 MILLION cases of obesity instead of the 7.2 cases listed in the article? I am not quite understanding how this would reduce 58 million a year in health care costs? Although, I appreciate the point of view expressed in this article, the numbers presented don't seem to make sense . . . Report
I NEVER add salt to my food (and don't miss it now that I can appreciate different tastes better--I think too much salt sort of numbs your taste buds in a way), and rarely do I add salt when cooking, yet it's still incredibly easy to OD on it. It seems like it's packed into everything. The other day, I was looking at a nutritional label on turkey lunch meat, and was horrified to see that one "hearty" slice has 14% of your salt for the day! One slice! It's thicker and not cut so razor thin, but still, one slice isn't much. I'd use at least two for a sandwich, which ups it to a bit over a fourth of your RDA, and that's going by 2300, not 2000 or less which is my goal. Sheesh! Occasionally, if I have fast food, I opt for subs, but even those can be harsh with nearly 1000+ mg of sodium each (Probably because of the deli meats and maybe bread, right?). I try to avoid packaged foods, but it can be difficult. Salt is sneaky.

Reducing calories by 100 a day doesn't sound bad. SparkPeople is all about making small, lasting changes that add up to big differences, and while it would take a while to lose much weight only reducing it by 100, it would help. But, like another poster said, it seems a bit optimistic.

EDIT: Oh, and when I was sick and didn't have the energy to make my own chicken noodle soup? I looked on the label of what was collecting dust in the cupboard and guess what? That can of chicken noodle soup had about 90% of your RDA, sodium-wise. !!!!!!!! How is that even legal?!?!?! (And it's one of those sized cans that, after you add water, it's enough for one bowl of soup. 2.5 servings my butt.) Report
Especially with the sodium issue, you don't have to use a salt shaker to overdose on your sodium...
After tracking sodium for a few weeks I quickly learned that if I order it elsewhere or it comes out of a package (cans, boxes, envelopes, etc), it has too much sodium in it.
Its not in the places you think it is either... a 4pc chicken nuggets and a small fry from McD's have only 590mg where as half a can of Campbells tomato soup has 600mg . A serving of lowfat cottage cheese has 440mg compared to only 240mg in 1/2 c broth made with a bouillon cube (assuming 1 cube makes 2 cups).
I'm not surprised that little things would make such a big difference, I know I've made a few small adjustments and gotten big rewards back.
Here's hoping people start catching on soon! Report
I do salt a little while cooking, but never once the food is on the table Report
I salt nothing. And buy low sodium products. Report
"...could eliminate 11 million cases of high blood pressure, improving the quality and life span of thousands of people"

And these thousands of people wouldn't get sick from other reasons that might be more of a cost than high intake of sodium, especially when they grow elderly...? Report
I firmly believe that people were to see how little they would need to change to avoid all the health and financial problems they inflict on themselves, they would take at least some steps to change. Some others don't care though. Report
It is amazing that somethings so small can make such a difference. Report
While there is far too much salt added to foods and exceeding the daily intake of anything can be bad, it's important to note that not everyone is salt sensitive. According to the JAMA and other medical sources, only 26% of the population's blood pressure is actually impacted by salt intake. Other factors are at work. Report
I am constantly amazed at how much salt is added to prepared foods. Since we don't cook using much salt, almost any prepared food tastes YICKY salty. I am tracking sodium intake and can easily see now the days I eat out or eat processed food. Report
I'm in public health and not at all surprised to see what small changes can do for the costs of the nation. The Rand corporation does a lot of really good research into Health Care policy evidence and have really good research rigor. To the person knocking the Rand research and "what is lacking is the reports on where these savings would come from" I suggest you read the original research journal article where it specifies how they determined the savings amounts. Rand is a non-profit think tank with the goal of adding evidence to public policy decisions (something that is so often lacking in current policy debate). I'm not against a public health care option but you can't use this research as evidence as to why one is needed- since it does not assume anything about insurance companies changing prices. Report
I ate 2 pieces of Deli CATFISH last night and it made me gain 2.4# overnight, and I know it was all from so much salt. Report
No, I'm not surprised. I am sure that I retain a lot of water, because of the sodium that I consume. I am lucky that I have low blood pressure, now that I've taken off 240 pounds, but I could still stand to lower my salt intake. I don't cook with salt, nor do I eat a lot of pre-packaged meals: my downfall is chips, popcorn, and take-out foods. I do salt some foods, but I think the worst is eating the chips and take-out food. I am sure I would lose 5-8 pounds just from fluid retention if I cut those out! Report
i do enjoy salt too much and I see that reducing the amount I use will improve my health
Wow, that actually shocks me. 100 calories is nothing! That would be taking away one soda or beer from every person every day...maybe having 1/2 as much ice cream, or one less cookie... I can't believe something so small could make such a huge difference! Report
Not too surprised. Small changes will win the day! Report
Toconner... great post. Report
It doesn't say that sodium is bad for your health, it says that TOO MUCH is. And that's true. Too much of ANYTHING isn't good.

I have cut out most processed foods and I never add salt to anything, never have. But my average is still 2,000-3,000 a day. Although on some days I'm shocked to see it around 1,800. I have low blood pressure so I don't even worry about it, but I like tracking it to see where I'm at. Report
We DON'T all know that sodium is bad for your health.
....In SOME CASES..sodium can be bad for one's health.
MANY people who are in good health need not give sodium one thought. Report
Its so important to read the labels. But, it seems, everyting in moderation.
I didn't realise that it could be so easy to become ill through LACK of salt. Report
I am not surprised at all. Many of our most prolific health problems are diet based or at least are made worse by diet.

Chrones, colitis, IBS - may not be 'caused' by diet but sure are made worse or better by eating the wrong things or too much of 'not so good' things.

Diabetes ( type 2) can be controlled by diet and excersise.......and sometimes meds are not even required. And we know that the off shoot problems from Diabetes are all killers.

So this information is no surprise to me at all.... Report
I go to our local farmers market now and try and buy all the fresh veggies I can, I will buy canned but only for hurricane rations (I live in Florida) and even then it's all low sodium. Report
Not suprised but my wife and I are getting away from the can. No matter how well you eat, if you use can goods it just jacks up the sodium. CRAZY.... we are going to start buying more fresh and cook beans from scratch. Report
I am not surprised. I believe that if everyone were healthier, it would save individuals and the nation itself a lot. I thought that eating healthy would cost more, but it doesn't - I have saved money by not buying so much pop and chips and other junk. Also, I plan to spend less when I can give up my cholesterol med and hopefully see the doc less. It all adds up. Report
One does, however need a certain amount of salt. I have gone no-salt crazy and ended up with low sodium levels at the doctor. So my new M.O. is when using salt, use GOOD salt, like Hawaiian Sea salt! Use just a tiny bit and enjoy the great flavor of non-processed, natural sea salt! Full of minerals too! Report
I knew small changes could affect our bodies health, but I didn't think about the economic benefits! Something to think about. Report
Salt is definitely a learned taste. I've made an effort to cut back, and now many "normal" foods taste like a total salt lick to me... flavor not enhanced at all... flavor OBLITERATED. YUCK! Report
Salt is a learned taste - it will take some time but we all can kick the habit. Report
I know that this change works. When i was a child my family went thru alot of heart aches with dad. When his diet had to change, my mom didnt just make it for him she made it for the whole family. you couldnt tell the changes in the food when you deleted something out of the ingredents. to this day i cook the same way. Salt is not on my table or cabnet.. I dont miss it and my family as learned to cook without it. Report
I agree with what the article said. If we cut back on certain additives, and calories etc. It will improve health and also cut down on the amount of money we have to spend as individuals for health care cost. Report
I got a couple of websites to do some research on MSG. ("hidden" is a good visual page)
There is a lot of reading material. But I still find it interesting. We can't avoid salt completely, for one it is something we must have to survive, but learning about it is healthy. Hope this helps. Report
I noted that the study was done by the Rand Corp. In the current climate of the healthcare reform debate, I cannot help but wonder if articles like this are more commonplace as a result of the industry not wanting to change or cut back on its exhorbitant profits. What is always missing from these reports is specifically where the savings would be. I can see that individuals might very well avoid certain medical costs by changing behaviors affecting personal health that are under their own control. But does that mean the healthcare industry will follow suit in reducing its pricing? I'm afraid not, contrary to the implied notions behind these studies. That is one reason we need a national healthcare system -- to place caps on the pricing of drugs, medical fees, procedures, etc. It should be quite apparent by now that the industries will not do so of their own accord. Report
It is SO hard to avoid the salt! It is everywhere!

I buy no-salt-added canned food when I can, and reduced-sodium foods, and fresh foods. But even so-called reduced-sodium is still high if you're on a restricted diet.

And forget dining out. My motto is, no Chinese food on Wednesdays (since weigh-in is Thursday). Report
I am not really surprised by this. I used to eat a lot of processed food, and couldn't believe the amount of sodium in so many products. I don't think a lot of people realize there's sodium in virtually everything, even cereals. I try to limit it in my household , especialy now that my husband has high blood pressure, and a slightly elevated cholesterol level. Report
I've been tracking sodium for a couple months. It is very difficult for me to not go over 2300 and I don't use salt when I cook or put it on my food. There is so much sodium in processed foods. I'm really trying to do better about cutting back.

It's amazing that small changes make such a big difference. I can't wait for the Spark Book to come out so more people will join up and learn how to improve their lives. Report
2300 mg. If I had 2300 mg in a 24 hr period, I would dead. If someone really wants to get that number down, stop buying and consuming prepackaged foods... My daily intake runs about 200 to 600, depending on what I do. I have no salt in my house. The only thing I have that would have salt in it is a few mix spice bottles, my soy and my bread.

The hidden salt is the most dangerous and it is MSG. Now MSG is not always in this name, it has MANY names. MSG increases the production of glucose by a lot and increases the need for MORE bad foods. My advice is to google MSG and read thru the information websites. It will BLOW YOU MIND. Don't get angry about it, its our choice on what we buy. Now, there is a difference, there is natural occurring msg and artificial msg. I sure hope this helps everyone. Report
I just started tracking my sodium. I was amazed at some things. No more salad dressing for me. I will use oil and vinegar and some homemade. Report
something is wrong with the numbers:
"projected to eliminate 3.9 cases of hyperlipidemia and reduce medical costs $2.0 billion per year" that is $500,000,000 per case of hyperlipidemia per year ????????? Report
I think the study is right on track with the sodium, but I think they may be a bit optimistic with the 100 cal/day being so effective against obesity or 5 gms of fat reducing cholesterol to such an extent. Those who battle these conditions know that it takes a bit more than a 700 calories/week deficit to make a significant dent in weight--one would have to be near their appropriate intake level at the outset for it do much of anything at all. What's good about the article is that it shows small changes can be effective--at least as a starting point. Report
I'm not at all surprised by this. A few years ago I was following Weight Watchers Program and I was doing great. I lost so much weight. Then I hit my plateau and no matter what I changed I was gaining weight back or staying the same. The harder I tried the more I failed, in fact I was swelling up when I exercised. I spoke to my family Doc about it and showed him my legs (which were swollen), showed him my meal planner which appeared to be healthy (with WW you only track fat, fiber and calories to find your points). We discussed other things and he put me on water pills to get me peeing more. He told me for the next few weeks to track my salt levels. Although I was eating healthy my sodium intake was through the roof! It turns out that low fat foods are good for you to a point. You have to try and average it all out because the lower in fat, typically, the higher in sodium the product is. I was so surprised by that. That's why I find Spark great. It tracks everything for me. Even if I still follow the WW system I track my food here so that I don't go over on things like sodium (or under for that matter). Report
NOT SURPRISED! But very grateful for this very well
maintained article is filled with information people cannot deny!

At the moment I am watching, Good Times, and they are talking
about hypertension! This episode is from 1974, and the information
is still the same, the meals as well, so why are we not DOING MORE!
The average person would find it easier to reduce sodium levels if the food processors did not use so much to begin with. It is the hidden salt that is killing people. And when you do buy no salt or reduced salt, they may charge more. It's time for the food processor's to step up and make healthier foods. Report
I've never understood how people can eat over half the foods that they do with the amount of sodium in the items they consume (no offense, but yuck! nasty tasting). My mom has never cooked with salt nor did her mom, and so on down the line, thus I also do not cook with salt just with natural herbs and other healthy spices. Report
I am not surprised how the little stuff can reduce costs. I've seen in myself how reducing fat and calories can help. Throw in exercise and it comes down even more. I usually get the canned vegies that are marked no salt added. to avoid some of the sodium. I don't cook with salt which drives my husbband nuts. Report
No, I am not suprised about the impact sodium plays on our health. Six months ago when I finally decided to get healthy, the extra sodium in my own daily diet was the first thing to go. I eliminated all soda and Chinese food and guess what I do have ankles. It is really amazing to read any label and see just how much extra sodium a person is getting without using the salt shaker. I personally did not use salt at the table or in my cooking, so I did not understand how sodium was my water retention problem. When I finally started reading the entire food label I was mortified and quickly became well educated knowing it was time for me to take control of my own health. Report
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