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health. For example, guidance related to weight control—primarily guidance on lowering calorie consumption and reducing portion sizes—could result in lower sodium intake, because sodium intake tracks with calorie intake; however, at current average dietary sodium density, calorie control alone would not generally achieve recommended sodium intake limits. Also, messages about increasing the consumption of fruits and vegetables could have beneficial impacts on sodium intake. Overall, consumers may have difficulty focusing on a multitude of different messages about diet and health, and as a result sodium messages may compete for consumer attention with other key issues such as reducing obesity and increasing fruit and vegetable consumption. However, coordinating the sodium message with existing general messages about diet and health consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans coupled with some specific messages targeted to sodium may promote a better outcome. Research and consumer testing of health messages related to sodium have been neglected and could support the role of consumers in reducing their sodium intake.

Outreach Opportunities and Tools for Consumers

Despite the importance of reducing sodium intake as a public health priority, relatively few tools and support initiatives have been put in place. For example, MyPyramid,10 one of USDA’s major consumer initiatives for dietary change consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, does not currently include sodium as an area of focus. That is, sodium levels are not factored into the MyPyramid Plan or the MyPyramid Menu Planner tools. There is a footnote in the MyPyramid Menu Planner explaining that sodium cannot be calculated accurately using the tool because sodium levels vary so much within similar foods.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) is probably the agency most readily recognized as a federal leader in the area of dietary sodium reduction. The primary mission of NHLBI, however, is not to produce consumer-oriented toolkits or related enabling tools, but to facilitate research on topics relevant to its mission through a system of grant awards. Nonetheless, through what might be termed “ancillary” activities, NHLBI has provided a number of enabling tools for dietary change related to sodium intake, and it would be useful to enhance research related to such materials. The National High Blood Pressure Education Program is a cooperative effort involving professional and voluntary health agencies, state health departments, and community groups. Outputs that could be developed or enhanced include fact sheets, pamphlets, and brochures dealing with lifestyle changes; planning kits, posters, and print ads; radio messages;


Available online: (accessed October 27, 2009).

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