October 22 2011
Do you have a favorite snack food? Is it potato chips or cheese and crackers? Maybe you go for a candy bar, a protein bar or some salted peanuts to make it through the afternoon until dinner.
Now, how would you feel if the government came in and changed the recipe of that favorite snack food to conform to certain health requirements? Do you think it would taste as good if bureaucrats, rather than a company focused on meeting consumer demand, decided what ingredients are included? How would you feel if the government literally began controlling how and what you ate and how your food tasted?
That doesn't sound at all appetizing, does it? After all, these are the same folks who run the school lunch program, and we all remember those taste-free meals.
Since President Obama took office, several federal agencies have been empowered to creep into your food decisions. From proposed regulations on how food is advertised to how food companies label their products to the placement of calorie information, food manufacturers and restaurants are seeing an unprecedented siege of micromanagement from Uncle Sam. It doesn't appear to be easing up.
The latest government power grab is an attempt to control the ingredients that go into food sold for consumption.
Last week, the Food and Drug Administration, Department of Agriculture and Department of Health and Human Services announced that they would be accepting comments on "approaches to reducing sodium consumption." But don't let that innocent request for information fool you. It's all part of these agencies' efforts to limit how much salt you consume in a day and how much salt food manufacturers are putting into your favorite foods.
Besides the fact that this is a wildly inappropriate use of government power, these efforts are doomed to fail at improving public health. Why? Let's review the science.
While these agencies often cite dated (and in some cases inaccurate) information about sodium's relationship to poor health and heart disease, the most recent studies on salt suggest there's still a lot of uncertainty about how salt impacts the human body.
Researchers in Great Britain this year reviewed data from seven studies that included more than 6,200 participants, each of whom reduced his or her salt intake. The results showed that while eating less salt did lower blood pressure, it did not reduce the risk of dying or of having heart disease.
In 2006, a study published in the American Journal of Medicine of 78 million Americans found that the more sodium people ate, the less likely they were to die from heart disease. That's right: Those who ingested more salt had healthier hearts than those who consumed less. And in 2007, a study published in the European Journal of Epidemiology found no association between urinary sodium levels and the risk of coronary vascular disease or death.
Even the relationship between salt and hypertension has been questioned. A recent study published in the science journal Nature suggests genetics, not diet, is the major contributor to hypertension. Another study this year suggested that obesity, not salt, determines an individual's blood pressure.
There is a simple conclusion to be drawn from these varied and disparate studies: The science is not settled on salt. Therefore, individual people - not government regulators - need to make decisions about salt's role in their own diets.
Americans should wonder where all this regulation will end. Will the government soon be regulating the number of chocolate chips inserted into each cookie? The amount of milk fat allowed in yogurt and cottage cheese? Perhaps the government will soon require coffee companies to remove the caffeine from their products. (Take that, latte lovers.) Food regulation is the ultimate slippery slope. Today salt and trans fats, tomorrow sugar, fat, caffeine, alcohol and carbohydrates.
Reasonable people understand that they're responsible for their own health and food decisions. Government's one size-fits-all approach will mean two things: bland food in our grocery aisles and a whole new set of folks with high blood pressure - those Americans enraged at the food police for taking the flavor out of their favorite foods.
Julie Gunlock is a senior fellow at the Independent Women's Forum.