As bad as too much sugar can be for our bodies, there’s another flavor enhancer out there whose overabundance in our diets can be dangerous to our health: Salt (or more accurately, sodium). Excess sodium is known to contribute to high blood pressure, which in turn increases the chance of heart attack or stroke. But though we know that as much as 90 percent of Americans are eating too much sodium (over 2,300 milligrams a day), we know less about what, if anything, the average American is doing about it.

Earlier this Thursday, the Centers For Disease Control (CDC) released a report of the sodium intake behaviors of Americans living within 26 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. And the news is predictably, though not entirely, bad. The authors found that around 40 to 70 percent of people surveyed had taken efforts to reduce the level of sodium in their diets, and that 14 to 41 percent had been given advice from their doctors to do so -- these rates were generally higher for those with hypertension. The authors note that their report is the first with “state-level estimates of sodium intake behavior among the general population.”

They took data from the 2013 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a collection of telephone surveys that extensively poll people about their health-related risk behaviors, chronic health conditions, and use of preventive services. In the states and territories they looked at, the BRFSS had recently added a series of questions about sodium use. Altogether, they analyzed the answers from 180,067 people.

Utah residents proved the least willing to watch or reduce their sodium levels, while Puerto Ricans at 73.4 percent won an A for effort. Similarly, Puerto Rican doctors appeared most likely to offer advice to their patients about their sodium intake, while Minnesotan health professionals, at least according to those polled, had only provided the same advice 13.5 percent of the time. Of note was the fact that the Southern states overall (10 out of 26) were the most likely to receive advice and work around their sodium intake.

"In all but four locations (DC, Kentucky, New Jersey, and Puerto Rico), less than half of respondents reported receiving advice to reduce sodium intake. Among adults without hypertension, most did not report taking action to reduce sodium intake, and an even smaller proportion reported receiving professional advice to reduced sodium," the authors wrote. "These findings suggest an opportunity for promoting strategies to reduce sodium consumption among all adults, with and without hypertension."

Being that these were self-reported responses, there’s no way to tell whether anyone actually did try to reduce their sodium levels, but the authors hope that their analysis will provide a solid baseline upon which future public health strategies to convince people to lower their daily dose of sodium can be compared against.

Much like their sweet cousin, sodium levels have become increasingly difficult to lower not because of table salt’s popularity, but because it gets conspicuously added to the majority of our processed foods. Most people consume about 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day, according to the American Health Association.

Source: Fang J, Cogswell M, Park S, et al. Sodium Intake Among U.S. Adults — 26 States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, 2013. MMWR. 2015.

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