Bloomberg-era nannying continues under Mayor Bill de Blasio: “The [New York City] Board of Health voted unanimously to require chain eateries to put salt-shaker emblems on menus to denote dishes with more than the recommended daily limit of 2,300 milligrams of sodium.” [Associated Press] There are several problems with this, beginning with the coercion: it’s not the proper role of government to force itself on the marketplace as a diet and health adviser. The salt guidelines themselves, moreover, are so rigorous in their demands for salt restriction that only one in ten Americans currently succeeds in meeting them; while some persons (notably cardiac patients) can lower their risk by going on a salt-restricted diet, it seems to confer no benefit on many others and may even bring health risks of its own. Aside from breeding “warning fatigue” that encourages consumers to ignore increasingly complicated signage, the measure brings serious compliance costs, especially if restaurants try to introduce new offerings frequently or vary their offerings to reflect local or individual customer preferences. Finally, the de Blasio administration bypassed the City Council (which by design is answerable to the entire city, including consumer and business voters) in favor of going for an edict by the Board of Health. Mayor Bloomberg tried the same tactic with his soda ban, only to see it struck down by the courts.
The federal government officially recommends salt intake drastically lower than what most Americans consume — 2,300 milligrams a day compared with 3,500. Yet a vocal body of scientific critics say not only are such drastic reductions unneeded for those without specific risk factors such as high blood pressure, but cutting salt intake below 3,000 milligrams can pose its own health risks. [Washington Post]
Even as the FDA prepares ambitious new rules pressuring food makers to reduce the amount of salt in their wares — recipe regulation, as we’ve called it — a new study questions whether most people in Western countries really need to cut salt after all. The study, led by Dr. Salim Yusuf of McMaster University, finds evidence consistent with sodium being a health risk for person with hypertension and those with the highest salt intake, but also suggests that most of the population is in the optimal zone for salt intake and that adding potassium-rich fruits and vegetables to the diet may be a superior way for many to fend off bad effects from sodium. The study ran jointly in the New England Journal of Medicine with a second which lays more emphasis on hazards of salt intake. [Yahoo News] More: Just One Minute, ACSH.
- Obama pick for USDA nutrition chief advances food-as-social-justice theme [Politico, Free Beacon and more, Jeff Stier/Des Moines Register]
- Hawaii GMO battle is one the whole nation should watch [Mark Strauss, io9]
- “Overprotective Government, Overweight Kids?” [Lenore Skenazy]
- “Cherry wars: The crazy economics of Michigan’s favorite pitted fruit” [Bridge Magazine]
- “FDA’s Artificial Trans Fat ‘Ban’: A Dangerous Step to Control Personal Dietary Choices” [Daren Bakst, Heritage via Michelle Minton, CEI]
- And in the wings: FDA readies crackdown on salt as ingredient [AP]
- French law mandating disclosure of whether restaurant food is made in house isn’t going well [Baylen Linnekin, more]
“In a report that undercuts years of public health warnings, a prestigious group convened by the government says there is no good reason based on health outcomes for many Americans to drive their sodium consumption down to the very low levels recommended in national dietary guidelines.” [Gina Kolata, New York Times, on Institute of Medicine report; CBS News; Philadelphia Inquirer]
On Sunday the New York Times published a long, breathless screed attacking food company marketing (“Inside the hyper-engineered, savagely marketed, addiction-creating battle for ‘stomach share.'”) The article itself furnishes an example of empty, hype-fueled journalistic calories, or so I suggest in a new op-ed at the Daily Caller.
“[Glenn] Richter has been collecting food from places like the Ohav Zedek synagogue and bringing it to homeless shelters for more than 20 years, but recently his donation, including a ‘cholent‘ or carrot stew, was turned away because the Bloomberg administration wants to monitor the salt, fat and fiber eaten by the homeless. … Richter said that over the years he’s delivered more than two tons of food to the homeless.” The NYC mayor says he’s not planning to reconsider the recently adopted policy. [CBS-NY] Earlier here (Connecticut), here (N.J.: “retail food establishment”), here, etc.
- NYC health officials, in yet another federally funded food-denunciation ad campaign, Photoshop leg off obese guy to turn him into supposed diabetic amputee [my new Cato post, Radley Balko; more Caroline May/Daily Caller] Still at it update: “First 5” government program ad campaign Photoshops pic of little girl to make her look more obese [Jezebel, Jun. 2013]
- Are White House advisors reading my posts? Probably not, but deregulation of dairy-farm “oil” spills still gave President an applause line in State of the Union speech [also at Cato]
- More on L.A. schools’ healthy-lunch debacle [WSJ edit, earlier] It’s an illustration of how promising pilot projects often don’t scale [Megan McArdle] New Penn State study finds no connection between child obesity and availability of “bad” foods at school [NYT, Philly Mag, study via Wajert]
- “Obesity plateau” of American population should offer chance for calm policy reflection, but probably won’t [Jacob Sullum] “Food Lawsuits Claiming ‘Addiction’ Coming To a Courtroom Near You?” [Lammi, Forbes]
- Despite lip service to “letting consumers make their own food choices,” Obama won’t legalize raw milk [Obama Foodarama]
- Coming in April from Tyler Cowen, “An Economist Gets Lunch: New Rules for Everyday Foodies” [Amazon, Freakonomics, Food and Drink category of MR, and you can follow Twitter account @AnEconomistGets;
- “2011 Brought Lots of Good News for Salt Lovers” [Greg Conko, Open Market]