Some people just don’t know when to quit. Last year we dissected the claim by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) that salt is a “silent killer” responsible for 150,000 deaths a year, but this dubious statistic refuses to die quietly. Indeed, this morning the Associated Press reported that Stephen Havas, a new employee at the American Medical Association, claims that the death count from salt amounts to “a jumbo jet with 400 people on it crashing every day.”
But don’t dump out your iodized Morton’s just yet. This is in fact the same man who worked with CSPI last year to promote the exact same salt scare. Problem is, Havas still hasn’t bothered to support his claim. His American Journal of Public Health article features holes gaping enough to fly a 400-passenger jumbo jet through, and he’s never published any further research to patch those holes. As we’ve pointed out previously, the article provides no explanation for how the death total is calculated. Coming up with huge, scary numbers is easy, but unless you explain how you came up with them, no one’s going to listen to your argument.
Just as troubling is the fact that the 150,000-deaths article ignores the scientific debate over the health impact of salt. Havas cites only the evidence that supports his “silent killer” claim, while leaving out the fact that many rigorous scientific investigations have found little or no link between salt and mortality. A meta-study published in the prestigious British Medical Journal summarized the findings of a number of studies on the subject and found: “It is unclear what effects a low sodium diet has on cardiovascular events and mortality.” Another study published in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension concluded:
[F]ew data link sodium intake to health outcomes, and that which is available is inconsistent. Without knowledge of the sum of the multiple effects of reduced sodium diet, no single universal prescription for sodium intake can be scientifically justified.