FDA Sodium Reduction Targets and the Food Industry: Are There Incentives to Reformulate? Microsimulation Cost-Effectiveness Analysis

Original Scholarship

Policy Points:

  • The World Health Organization has recommended sodium reduction as a “best buy” to prevent cardiovascular disease (CVD). Despite this, Congress has temporarily blocked the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from implementing voluntary industry targets for sodium reduction in processed foods, the implementation of which could cost the industry around $16 billion over 10 years.
  • We modeled the health and economic impact of meeting the two-year and ten-year FDA targets, from the perspective of people working in the food system itself, over 20 years, from 2017 to 2036.
  • Benefits of implementing the FDA voluntary sodium targets extend to food companies and food system workers, and the value of CVD-related health gains and cost savings are together greater than the government and industry costs of reformulation.

Context: The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) set draft voluntary targets to reduce sodium levels in processed foods.We aimed to determine cost effectiveness of meeting these draft sodium targets, from the perspective of US food system workers.

Methods: We employed a microsimulation cost-effectiveness analysis using the US IMPACT Food Policy model with two scenarios: (1) short term, achieving two-year FDA reformulation targets only, and (2) long term, achieving 10-year FDA reformulation targets.We modeled four close-to-reality populations: food system “ever” workers; food system “current” workers in 2017; and subsets of processed food “ever” and “current” workers. Outcomes included cardiovascular disease cases prevented and postponed as well as incremental cost-effectiveness ratio per quality-adjusted life year (QALY) gained from 2017 to 2036.

Findings: Among food system ever workers, achieving long-term sodium reduction targets could produce 20-year health gains of approximately 180,000 QALYs (95% uncertainty interval [UI]: 150,000 to 209,000) and health cost savings of approximately $5.2 billion (95% UI: $3.5 billion to $8.3 billion), with an incremental cost-effectiveness ratio (ICER) of $62,000 (95% UI: $1,000 to $171,000) per QALY gained. For the subset of processed food industry workers, health gains would be approximately 32,000 QALYs (95% UI: 27,000 to 37,000); cost savings, $1.0 billion (95% UI: $0.7bn to $1.6bn); and ICER, $486,000 (95% UI: $148,000 to $1,094,000) per QALY gained. Because many health benefits may occur in individuals older than 65 or the uninsured, these health savings would be shared among individuals, industry, and government.

Conclusions: The benefits of implementing the FDA voluntary sodium targets extend to food companies and food system workers, with the value of health gains and health care cost savings outweighing the costs of reformulation, although not for the processed food industry.

Keywords: cardiovascular disease, cost-effectiveness analysis, food industry, health policy, sodium reduction.

Read on Wiley Online Library

Published in 2019
Volume 97, Issue 3 (pages 858-880)
DOI: 10.1111/1468-0009.12402