New York City is pushing restaurants and food packagers to cut back on the use of salt as part of a national health campaign aimed at reducing premature deaths from high blood pressure.

The city's health department on Monday set a goal of reducing salt consumption by 25 percent over five years, which it estimated would cut salt intake nationally by 20 percent and prevent many premature deaths.

Americans consume twice the recommended daily limit of salt, most of it in packaged or prepared foods, "causing widespread high blood pressure and placing millions at risk of heart attack and stroke," the department said.

An estimated 23,000 people die a year in New York City from heart attacks and stroke, and more than 800,000 deaths nationwide, it said.

"Consumers can always add salt to food, but they can't take it out," Thomas Farley, New York City health commissioner, said.

"If we can reduce the sodium levels in packaged and restaurant foods, we will give consumers more choice about the amount of salt they eat, and reduce their risk of heart disease and stroke in the process," he said.

A number of other cities, states and health organizations have joined the city's National Salt Reduction Initiative, which spent the last year in consultations with food industry leaders to develop salt targets for a comprehensive set of foods.

A similar initiative in Britain has resulted in a 40 percent reduction in salt in some food products, the health department said.