updated 8/9/2006 12:38:02 PM ET 2006-08-09T16:38:02

The nation's largest doctors group is pushing for new warning labels. Only these labels aren't for drugs — they're for food.

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The American Medical Association voted Tuesday to urge the government to require high-salt foods to be labeled and also vowed to push the food industry to drastically cut the amount of salt in restaurant and processed foods. The goal would be 50 percent less salt within a decade.

Americans eat almost twice the amount of salt they should, and that contributes to high blood pressure and heart problems, the AMA says.

Labels with pictures of salt shakers bearing the word "high" and red exclamation marks might help consumers think twice about eating high-sodium foods, suggested an AMA council report that led to the new policy.

Foods considered high in salt are those with more than 480 milligrams of sodium per serving, according to the AMA report. That includes hot dogs, some canned soups, a slice of packaged pepperoni pizza, an order of chicken chow mein and a cheeseburger, according to a food chart accompanying the council report.

On a voice vote, AMA delegates adopted the policy at their five-day annual meeting, which ends Wednesday.

The measure also calls for the AMA to ask the Food and Drug Administration to revoke salt's status as a food that is "generally recognized as safe," known as "GRAS" in the industry. GRAS food includes such staples as sugar and pepper.

Twice the recommended amount
The American Heart Association recommends limiting sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams daily, or less than about one teaspoon, but the average daily consumption among American adults is nearly double that amount, the report said.

The AMA report said there is overwhelming evidence that eating an excessive amount of salt is a risk factor for high blood pressure and may be an independent risk factor for other cardiovascular problems.

More than 30 percent of U.S. adults have high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease is the nation's leading cause of death.

"Ultimately, substantial cooperation among the government, the food industry, physicians and the nutrition community will be required to accomplish meaningful change," the report said.

Conflicting opinion
The Food Products Association, a trade group for the food and beverage manufacturing industry, said the new policy is misguided.

"Why single out salt?" asked Robert Earl, the group's nutrition policy director. "A direct link between salt and negative cardiovascular outcomes is not as clear as some portray it to be."

He said existing food labels listing sodium content are sufficient for consumers to make healthy choices. Salt occurs naturally in some foods and is added to others to enhance taste and preserve freshness.

The AMA has considerable clout in Washington and an FDA spokesman said the group's stance on salt could lead the agency to consider holding hearings on the issue.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer group, last year asked the FDA to revoke salt's status as a safe food. The group's executive director, Michael Jacobson, said the AMA action "adds very productively to the debate."

Makers of processed foods, restaurants and fast-food chains are all targets of the AMA's new policy. One of those, McDonald's Corp., did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the policy.

In other policies adopted Tuesday, the AMA:

  • Vowed to push to end alcohol ads during college sports broadcasts as part of its campaign against underage drinking.
  • Pledged to encourage federal action to ban people younger than age 18 from using tanning parlors, to help reduce teens' risks for skin cancer as they age.
  • Rejected a measure asking it to lobby for a tax on sugar-sweetened sodas.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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