CBS Warns: Food Industry Must Reduce Salt Content or 'Face Regulation'

Teasing an upcoming story on new federal dietary guidelines on Monday's CBS Evening News, fill-in anchor Harry Smith announced: "The assault on salt. Chances are you are eating too much of it." Smith later introduced the segment by fretting: "Two out of three Americans are overweight or obese, an epidemic that is expected to send health care costs skyrocketing."

In the report that followed, correspondent Michelle Miller explained: "USDA is now urging Americans...to wean themselves off excess sodium and improve their overall eating habits." She spoke with nutritionist Lisa Young, who insisted, "We need to get the food industry on board." Miller declared: "...the problem is the salt that's already in processed foods....That's why the government is now pressuring food companies to cut the salt in their products or face regulation."

Miller detailed how the new government guidelines "urge us to double the amount of fruits and vegetables we eat....no more than between 200 and 300 calories of saturated fats. And they want us to double the amount of fish we normally eat. And drink water, not soda." Holding up a bag of pretzels, Young implored: "How many of us going to Super Bowl parties are going to eat four or five handfuls? So three handfuls of pretzels and that's all your sodium for the entire day."  

CBS reporters have frequently played the role of food police. On the January 20 Evening News, correspondent Mark Strassmann cheered efforts by First Lady Michelle Obama to pressure America's largest grocer, Wal-Mart, to sell more nutritional products: "It's new muscle in America's nutrition battle. A good eating alliance between Wal-Mart and the White House.... Wal-Mart promises revised recipes with good nutrition in mind, from bread to bacon to processed cheese."

Strassmann noted how Wal-Mart would not only change its behavior, but would also be "pressuring its name brand food suppliers to do the same." He described the effort as "needed change" and blamed Wal-Mart for American obesity: "...a new study holds the company partially responsible because it sells so many unhealthy choices so cheaply."

Concluding the report, Strassmann asserted: "Dieticians warn weaning consumers from all that fat, salt, and sugar will take time." Dietician Meagan Mohammadione maintained: "The taste buds will change and it will be more of a gradual thing. If they kind of take it all out at once, people will definitely kind of maybe revolt against it." Strassmann lamented that "for many Americans, old food habits die hard."


Here is a full transcript of Miller's January 31 report:

6:30PM ET TEASE:

HARRY SMITH: And, when a pinch of salt is probably more than enough.

6:43PM ET TEASE:

SMITH: And the assault on salt. Chances are you are eating too much of it. New federal guidelines next.

6:46PM ET SEGMENT:

SMITH: Two out of three Americans are overweight or obese, an epidemic that is expected to send health care costs skyrocketing. Today the federal government released new guidelines for a healthier diet. As Michelle Miller reports, most of us are not going to like this – they start with cutting the salt.

JOY ALESSI: I like salt.

MICHELLE MILLER: Joy Alessi makes no apologies for her taste in food.

ALESSI: Well, you know, I actually like sea salt and I like to dump a good handful in.

MILLER: But USDA is now urging Americans like Joy to wean themselves off excess sodium and improve their overall eating habits.

THOMAS VILSACK [SECRETARY OF AGRICULTURE]: This is a science-based system and it's focused on calories in and calories out.

MILLER: The nation's new dietary guidelines urge us to double the amount of fruits and vegetables we eat. We get more than 800 calories from solid fats and added sugars. The guidelines say no more than between 200 and 300 calories of saturated fats. And they want us to double the amount of fish we normally eat. And drink water, not soda. At 81, Edith Williams could be the guideline's poster child.

EDITH WILLIAMS: I never crave salt. I like don't a lot of salt.

MILLER: Really.

WILLIAMS: Yeah.

MILLER: You're in the minority.

WILLIAMS: Yeah.

MILLER: The main goal, reducing sodium consumption for half the population, people aged 51 and older, African Americans, those suffering from certain chronic diseases, and children should consume just 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day, or about half a teaspoon. Guidelines for the rest of us remain at 2,300 milligrams.

LISA YOUNG: We need to get the food industry on board.

MILLER: Nutritionist Lisa Young says the problem is the salt that's already in processed foods.

YOUNG: And how many of us going to Super Bowl parties are going to eat four or five handfuls? So three handfuls of pretzels and that's all your sodium for the entire day.

MILLER: I want my 15 chips. 3, 4. One more.

YOUNG: 13, 14, 15.

MILLER: No, that's – I've got one more. I think I could stick to this.

YOUNG: Okay, good. Most of us can't.

MILLER: That's why the government is now pressuring food companies to cut the salt in their products or face regulation. Michelle Miller, CBS News, New York.

SMITH: And for more on this story, all you have to do is go to our partner in health news, webmd.com, and search 'dietary guidelines.'

Here is a full transcript of Strassmann's January 20 report:

6:30PM ET TEASE:

KATIE COURIC: Attention Wal-Mart shoppers – America's largest retailer is putting healthier food on its shelves.

6:35PM ET SEGMENT:

COURIC: In her campaign against childhood obesity, Michelle Obama got a new partner today, the store that sells more food than any other grocer in the country. Mark Strassmann has more.

MARK STRASSMANN: It's new muscle in America's nutrition battle. A good eating alliance between Wal-Mart and the White House.

MICHELLE OBAMA: I am thrilled about Wal-Mart's new nutrition charter.

STRASSMANN: In that charter, Wal-Mart promises revised recipes with good nutrition in mind, from bread to bacon to processed cheese. As America's largest grocer, Wal-Mart's committing to make and sell healthier choices, starting with its own Great Value brand, and then pressuring its name brand food suppliers to do the same.

Among Wal-Mart's changes over the next five years, eliminate trans fats, cut sodium by 25%, and sugar by 10%. But still keep prices low, critical to Linna Okakpu, shopping near Atlanta for her family of 10. If you had to go for healthy or cheap what would you go for?

LINNA OKAKPU: Right now, cheap.

STRASSMANN: Wal-Mart promises to change, to make healthy food less expensive. It's needed change. Surveys show two-thirds of Americans are overweight, and with Wal-Mart now selling one-fourth of America's groceries, a new study holds the company partially responsible because it sells so many unhealthy choices so cheaply.

CHARLES COURTEMANCHE [THE UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA, GREENSBORO]: We actually found that 10% of the rise in obesity could actually be tied directly to Wal-Mart super centers kind of taking over the grocery market.

STRASSMANN: Dieticians warn weaning consumers from all that fat, salt, and sugar will take time.

MEAGAN MOHAMMADIONE [CLINICAL DIETITIAN, EMORY BARIATRIC CENTER]: The taste buds will change and it will be more of a gradual thing. If they kind of take it all out at once, people will definitely kind of maybe revolt against it.

STRASSMANN: Case in point – last night's White House state dinner, a feast that included Ribeye, double-stuffed potatoes, creamed spinach, and apple pie a la mode. 2,400 total calories, more than a day's recommended total for most adults. Proof that for many Americans, old food habits die hard. Mark Strassmann, CBS News, Atlanta.

— Kyle Drennen is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC