By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS

0526-Feature-NY-Sodium_WPNew York City health officials can begin enforcing a rule that requires chain restaurants throughout the city to post warnings on all menu items high in sodium, according to a state appellate ruling issued Thursday.

The decision by the state’s Appellate Division, First Department, upholds a rule that went into effect last fall after receiving unanimous approval by the New York City Board of Health.

Under the requirement, which only applies to restaurants that have 15 or more locations around the country, warnings in the shape of a salt shaker must be placed next to any menu item with more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium. That’s the equivalent to a teaspoon of salt and the daily limit suggested by the federal government.

New York City Health Commissioner Mary T. Bassett called the appellate court decision “a tremendous victory for the health of New Yorkers.”

“Today’s Appellate Division ruling allows New Yorkers to make informed and better decisions about their diets and their health,” she said in a statement.

Some chain businesses – including Applebee’s, Subway and T.G.I. Friday’s and Regal Entertainment movie theaters – have already started adding the sodium warnings to their menus, which Bassett noted in her statement.

“Diners are now empowered to make informed decisions to lower their sodium intake and reduce the risk of high blood pressure, stroke and other heart-related ailments,” she said.

The city said it would begin enforcing the rule – and slapping $200 penalties on violators – on June 6.

The sodium warnings originally went into effect last December, but restaurants were given until March 1 to make necessary changes to their menus.

The city was sued over the initiative by the National Restaurant Association, which called the warnings an “unlawful and unprecedented” mandate. On Feb. 29, a day before New York City health officials could begin imposing fines, an appellate judge temporarily blocked enforcement of the rule. Thursday’s decision lifted that order.

The restaurant group denounced the court ruling, saying the decision will force New York restaurant owners to “start complying with this unlawful and unprecedented sodium mandate before the court has the chance to rule on the merits of our appeal.”

The organization said it will continue to appeal the decision and urged New York health officials to voluntarily delay enforcement until a hearing later this year.

“We look forward to a full and fair opportunity to make our case on behalf of New York City’s restaurateurs,” the organization said in a statement.

The American Heart Association applauded the New York appellate court decision, saying it protects policies that can help lower the risk of high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and stroke, as well as save billions of dollars in annual healthcare costs.

“Americans deserve the opportunity to choose how much sodium they are eating,” said Lawrence J. Appel, M.D., a spokesperson for the AHA, and the director of the Welch Center for Prevention, Epidemiology and Clinical Research in Baltimore.

“Consuming 2,300 milligrams of sodium or more in a single day would put an individual over the recommended healthy amounts according to the CDC’s dietary guidelines,” Appel said. “These warning labels will empower people to make healthier choices and improve their heart health.”