In an important ruling protecting the role of state and local governments as America’s public health leaders, an appellate court has upheld New York City’s groundbreaking requirement that chain restaurants warn diners about menu items containing dangerous levels of salt. Under the law, chain restaurant menus must display a salt shaker warning icon alongside any menu offering containing more sodium than is recommended for consumption in an entire day. Amazingly, an estimated twenty percent of chain restaurant menu items contain more than a full day’s worth of salt. 

In a unanimous decision handed down February 10, the Appellate Division, First Department, of the New York Supreme Court – the State’s intermediate court of appeals –rejected a challenge by the National Restaurant Association, which argued that the new disclosure law violated the separation of powers, imposed arbitrary and capricious burdens on business, violated restaurants’ rights of “free speech,” and was barred by federal law. The court rejected each of these arguments.

Americans consume far more sodium (and salt) than recommended by the world’s health authorities.  Excess sodium consumption causes high blood pressure, which, in turn, increases the risk of cardio-vascular disease, congestive heart failure and kidney disease.  Experts estimate that, in the United States alone, cutting sodium consumption to recommended levels would save $18 billion in health care costs, prevent more than 54,000 heart attacks, and save over 44,000 lives every year. 

The New York court relied on a friend-of-the-court legal brief developed by the Public Health Law Center, in collaboration with ChangeLab Solutions, on behalf of the American Heart Association, the American Medical Association and other leading health organizations, in ruling that there is “consensus concerning the science behind the Rule.”  

Although the restaurant association claimed the disclosure was barred by the federal Nutrition Labeling and Education Act, the court agreed instead with the City and the  Public Health Law Center’s friend-of-the-court brief, that cities and states are free to require the kind of “safety warning” required by New York.  

“The leadership of the American Heart Association and other preeminent health experts helped make this case a terrific victory for science and medical evidence, despite the opposition of powerful corporate interests,” said Public Health Law Center Director Doug Blanke.  “This opens the way for state and local innovation across the country, to empower consumers to make healthier choices about their own diets.” 

The ruling can be found here.

An article about the ruling in the New York Times can be found here.


February 14, 2017