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In Defense of Salt and the DQA
The USDA has released a new "healthy eating" graphic called "My Plate" that is intended to communicate federal dietary recommendations. One of those recommendations concerns salt. An AP story explains that the most recent guidelines are "telling people to drastically reduce salt...." The guidelines don't explain that reducing sodium intake may lead to premature death.

Achieving drastic reductions in the public's salt intake has long been a cause for nutrition watchdogs. For example, the Center for Science in the Public Interest calls salt "The Forgotten Killer" and claims that salt "at the levels present in the diets of most probably the single most harmful substance in the food supply." CSPI criticizes USDA and FDA for having "done little to reduce sodium consumption."

The problem with the government's dietary guidelines, and CSPI's histrionics, is that they conflict with the latest scientific data which suggests that lowering salt intake may lead to an increase in heart disease.

The May 4th issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association contained the article "Fatal and Nonfatal Outcomes, Incidence of Hypertension, and Blood Pressure Changes in Relation to Urinary Sodium Excretion." The research concluded that "Lower sodium excretion was associated with higher CVD [cardiovascular disease] mortality." In short, USDA and CSPI are encouraging a massive uncontrolled experiment with American's health that could lead to increased heart disease and early death.

The JAMA study highlights the critical role of the Data Quality Act in protecting public health. The functions of the DQA are to 1) ensure that federal agencies disseminate only information which meets strict quality standards, and 2) provide a mechanism requiring agencies to quickly correct information disseminations that no longer, or never, met quality requirements.

There is a bit of history to applying the DQA to salt-related health data. Specifically, there was an ill-conceived attempt some years ago to misuse the DQA by treating it as a glorified version of FOIA with respect to sodium research. The DQA is properly used when agencies scrupulously adhere to the pre-dissemination review process and when the public files substantive challenges to information not complying with quality standards.

It is OMB's job to enforce DQA compliance. OMB's enforcement of the DQA is as important to protecting public health as is any of their regulatory review work.

See JAMA article abstract

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