Target: 65 percent consuming less than 2,400 mg. daily
Then: 15 percent (all ages) Now: 18 percent of women, 2 percent of men 40 to 59
Too much salt in the diet has been linked to many serious diseases. A recent study by researchers at the University of California–San Francisco found that cutting sodium consumption by 1,200 mg. (about a half teaspoon) each day would slash strokes in the United States by up to 66,000 annually and deaths by up to 92,000.
The overwhelming majority of sodium in the American diet comes from processed foods. In April, the Institute of Medicine, the independent health research arm of the National Academy of Sciences, called on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to gradually curb the maximum amount of salt that manufacturers can add to foods, beverages, and meals. The institute suggested "incremental reductions" to give consumers' taste buds time to adjust. (The FDA has yet to take regulatory action.)Though some low-salt products are available, perhaps the best way to reduce sodium is to eliminate most processed foods from the diet in favor of home-cooked meals heavy on fresh produce. This would not only bring more Americans below the 2,400 mg. daily threshold, it would also move them toward the more healthful level that the Institute of Medicine considers "adequate intake": 1,500 mg. a day, and even less for people over 50.
Target: 12 percent still smoking
Then: 25 percent of people 45 to 64 smoked cigarettes Now: 23 percent
Nobody has to tell middle-age people who still smoke that they're increasing their risk for lung cancer, emphysema, heart disease, and stroke. Many have been trying to quit for decades. Those who haven't succeeded don't necessarily have less willpower, however; they might just have a different brain biology, says Richard Hurt, director of the Nicotine Dependence Center at the Mayo Clinic. "People who have the most trouble quitting have more nicotine receptors in their brains—sometimes billions more than others, which can make withdrawal symptoms more intense," he explains.
Experts recommend that long-term smokers enlist multiple methods to stop: behavioral counseling to develop a detailed quit plan (via phone "quitlines" or online sites such as the American Legacy Foundation's BecomeAnEx.org), medications (prescription drugs include Chantix and Zyban), and nicotine replacement (gums, lozenges, patches, and the like). "We're finding that combining different methods makes them more effective," Hurt says.
For those who don't think quitting is worth the hassle, consider that only 9 percent of Americans over 65 remain smokers. Many finally force themselves to give up the habit after they've been hospitalized for a smoking-related illness. But many others, Hurt says, die before they reach retirement age.