Dispatch: Salt on Your Television, Seatbelts, Flu, and More Salt

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ACSH's Jeff Stier is scheduled to be on CNBC this afternoon at 1:48 PM (Eastern) in order to discuss the New York City Department of Health's campaign to reduce the city's salt intake.

Lights, Camera, Seatbelt, Action

The latest in a series of CDC studies analyzing movies with children as a target audience concludes that just 56% of onscreen motor vehicle passengers wore their seatbelts, while 25% of people depicted bicycling wore helmets.

“Accidental injuries are the most common cause of death in young children,” says ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross. “Evidence is very strong that wearing seatbelts and bicycle helmets saves lives. Still, I don't know if there's any evidence that portraying movie characters that don't use these safety measures influences young children or their parents, so I wouldn't advise harsher ratings for movies that do so.”

“It would be nice if Hollywood producers and directors took the initiative on their own to change this,” says ACSH's Dr. Elizabeth Whelan. “We want kids to wear seatbelts and put on helmets, and it's important for parents to make sure they do.”

The Best Way to Celebrate National Flu Vaccination Week

This week is National Influenza Vaccination week, and the Department of Health and Human Services and CDC are using the occasion to encourage everyone to get the H1N1 vaccine.

“It has been all over the news that the H1N1 pandemic is over,” says Dr. Whelan. “The reality is that we don't know if it will resurge. It could come back with a vengeance in the next few weeks. Don't play the odds. Get vaccinated. Another interesting note is that the seasonal flu hasn't made its debut, despite the fact that the H1N1 has waned. The question is: why? It's a mystery.”

“It's important to remember that 47 million Americans were infected with the H1N1 flu over the past ten months,” says Dr. Ross. “There were 200,000 hospitalizations and 10,000 deaths, of which somewhere between 200 and 300 were young children. It's important to protect yourself and your family, especially if you're pregnant, so make sure to get the vaccine.”

Cut Salt, Conquer Death?

The New York City Department of Health (DOH) claims that a campaign to reduce sodium intake by 20% nationwide could prevent up to 800,000 premature deaths from heart attack or stroke per year.

“Approximately 2.4 million deaths occur every year in the United States” total, says Dr. Ross. “About 800,000 are from heart disease and stroke. How can the DOH eliminate 800,000 deaths every year just by reducing salt intake? That's at least an order of magnitude higher than the most optimistic medical estimate about the effects of reduced sodium intake.”

“This happens all the time,” says Dr. Whelan. “The City DOH comes up with some regulation like trans-fats or calorie counts, then they make these proclamations of the benefits to be gained by them. Where they get these numbers, I have no idea. They're basically declaring salt one of the leading causes of death in the country, and that's absolutely false. I'm not downplaying the fact that hypertension is one of the top three risk factors for premature death in the U.S., but that is why we advocate for improved blood pressure screening as a way to deal with this serious problem instead of being fixated on salt as the cause.”

Curtis Porter is a research intern at the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH.org).