The US, on all of its food: 'Needs more salt'

April 17, 2012, 8:13 a.m.

A new study by Canadian health journal CMAJ has found that food in the United States has higher sodium levels than the same food in other countries. (Credit: Heather M./Flickr Creative Commons)

The United States loves it some sodium.

So much so that it's more generous with putting it in food products than other countries. A new study in the Canadian Health Journal CMAJ showed "substantial variation" in the average salt content for different types of food products, fast-food products in particular.

In fact, the study found that U.S. fast food may in fact be the saltiest in the world, according to the New York Daily News.

After analyzing McDonald's Chicken McNuggets from the United Kingdom, France, the U.S., Canada and New Zealand, the Daily News reported that researchers found the American version had the highest sodium content – 1.6 grams of salt per 100 grams.

Compare that to the U.K.'s 0.6. (Our Canadian neighbors to the north, notably, were only 0.1 grams behind the United States' 1.6.)

Fast food's seeming omnipresence in South L.A. led to a moratorium on building new fast-food restaurants in the area starting in 2008, something which was subsequently extended and ultimately made permanent in the winter of 2010. That effort, spearheaded by L.A. City Councilwoman Jan Perry, was aimed at finding a way to get more healthy food options in the area. The prevalence of fast-food joints exacerbates the southside's disparate obesity problem.

But researchers cautioned that fast-food isn't necessarily the culprit – food in the U.S. in general just has higher sodium content.

"If you go to an expensive restaurant, it is just as unhealthy," study author Dr. Norm Campbell told Time. "You just paid more money for it. You're no better off. If you go to the grocery store and you buy packaged food, it is just as bad. It's a much larger issue."

Campbell told Time that the unhealthily high levels of sodium aren't the fast-food industry's fault – instead, he blamed the government.

"These are federal government responsibilities," he said. "The fast food industries are responsible for their shareholders. They are not responsible for the health of the population. We elect politicians who have responsibility to oversee the changes in added salt and sugars in our foods that are killing us."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is more than familiar with CMAJ's findings, having already released a report in February that nine out of 10 Americans consume too much sodium.

Some in South L.A. disagree with Campbell, and believe that fast-food chains like McDonald's do have a responsibility to the health of their consumers.

"In our policy recommendations, we've never said fast-food restaurants cannot sell the food items they want," Breanna Morrison, a policy analyst for Community Health Councils, told OnCentral in March. "We're just saying that if you're going to monopolize the food items that are offered in the community, that you provide a diversity of options so that there can be a more equitable access to healthy food in our community, especially if the type of food they sell has negative health outcomes."

Photo by Heather M. via Flickr Creative Commons.

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