After examining the sodium content of packaged food products sold throughout the United States in 2009, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) researchers have reported that “fewer than half  of selected food products met Food and Drug Administration [FDA] sodium-per-serving conditions for labeling as ‘healthy.’” Alexandra Lee, et al., “Sodium Content in Packaged Foods by Census Division in the United States, 2009,” Preventing Chronic Disease: Public Health Research, Practice and Policy, April 2015.

Using the 2009 Nielsen ScanTrak data to identify all branded products sold in grocery stores with annual sales of $2 million or more, the study focused on products sold in three U.S. Census divisions—South Atlantic, East North Central and Pacific—representing approximately 50 percent of the U.S. population. These three regions also “reflect places with high (South Atlantic), medium (East North Central) and low (Pacific) prevalence of hypertension.” The authors then identified “products in the 10 food categories that contribute the most sodium to the U.S. diet,” obtaining nutritional data for those products with top sales in each census division and calculating “the mean and standard deviation of sodium content in each food category in milligrams (mg) per serving, mg per kilocalorie (density), and mg per 100 grams (concentration).”

The findings evidently revealed that mean sodium density was (i) highest in the East North Central for poultry, cheese, pasta and mixed dishes, and meat mixed dishes, (ii) highest in the South Atlantic for bread, soup and savory snacks, and (iii) highest in the Pacific for cold cuts, pizza and sandwiches. In particular, the study notes that “more than 70% of pizzas, pasta mixed dishes, and meat mixed dishes, and 50% to 70% of cold cuts, soups and sandwiches exceeded FDA ‘healthy’ labeling standards for sodium.” As the authors conclude, “[T]hese data support recent findings that suggest that meeting sodium recommendations may be difficult in the current food environment, regardless of location… In all 3 census divisions, the similarly narrow distributions of sodium density in most food categories are indicative of the lack of variation in sodium content.”