New York is the first state to require warning labels on high-sodium menu items.
The salt shaker symbol must be placed next to menu items that contain high levels of sodium.

NEW YORK – New York became the first city in the United States to require restaurant chains to include warning labels to identify menu items that contain high levels of sodium. The New York City Board of Health voted unanimously in favor of sodium warning labels on Sept. 9. The rule goes into force starting Dec. 1.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 recommends people in the general population consume less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day while people age 51 and older should consume less than 1,500 mg per day. The sodium warning labels apply to menu items that exceed 2,300 mg.

The new rule aims to reduce levels of sodium in restaurant and packaged foods. The NYC Health Department is coordinating a public-private partnership as part of the initiative. The measure will affect a third of all restaurant traffic in New York. Chains such as McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and KFC are among the chains that would be affected.

“It is disappointing the Department of Health has decided to go forward with sodium menu warning labels when more comprehensive federal regulations take effect next year,” Melissa Fleischut, president and CEO of the NYS Restaurant Association, said in a statement. “The establishments that fall under these new regulations will be forced to construct costly new menu boards in consecutive years.

“This is just the latest in a long litany of superfluous hoops that restaurants here in New York must jump through,” she added. “Every one of these cumbersome new laws makes it tougher and tougher for restaurants to find success.”

In a June presentation to the board of health, Dr. Sonia Angell, deputy commissioner of the Division of Prevention and Primary Care, said that in New York, 1 in 3 deaths are due to heart disease, and 36.1 percent of African American adults have been told by a health professional that they have high blood pressure, nearly 50 percent more than Whites at 24.8 percent. High dietary sodium can lead to high blood pressure and increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. More than 80 percent of adults in New York consume more sodium than the daily recommended amount of 2,300 mg.

But critics of the rule argue the warning labels are a misguided attempt to control what people eat.

“This is another example of the government creating policy based on outdated, incorrect sodium guidelines that have been refuted by ten years of research,” said Lori Roman, president of the Alexandria, Va.-based Salt Institute. “Research shows Americans already eat within the safe range of sodium consumption and population-wide sodium reduction strategies are unnecessary and could be harmful.”