Experts on bmj.com today say that health policy makers and governments worldwide must find an appropriate solution to reduce salt intake to save most lives and public money in shrinking economies.
Studies have proven that reduced salt intake saves costs. Professor Francesco Cappuccio and his colleagues argued prior to a United Nations High Level Meeting on non-communicable diseases, that lowering the daily dose of salt intake has the potential to significantly reduce levels of stroke and heart disease and save millions of lives worldwide.
The point at issue is not whether to reduce salt intake but how to reduce it. By 2025, the World Health Organization wants to achieve a global reduction of salt intake to less than 5 g (about one teaspoon) per person. Currently, the salt intake in many countries lies way above the suggested level.
Researchers suggest achieving this goal through mass media campaigns and engagement with the food industry to set limits on the salt content of processed foods. As an example, in the UK alone 8,000 stroke deaths and up to 12,000 coronary heart disease death could be prevented by simply reducing the daily salt intake to 3 g.
If applied to the USA, it projects that these measures would result in 120,000 less coronary heart disease cases, up to 66,000 less stoke victims and up to 99,000 heart attacks each year, saving up to $24 billion annually in health care costs.
The authors point out, that simply changing personal behavior and choice alone is not effective or realistic to reduce salt intake; The food market relies on taste, with the majority of salt being added to food prior to going on sale which is developing into a global trend as the worldwide food economy changes.
Researchers are calling for a four-pronged approach that should become a standard comprehensive policy:
- Communication - creating and assessing public awareness campaigns
- Reformulation - Establishing a regulated progressive salt reduction for reformulating existing processed food and working with the food industry to set standards for new foods
- Monitoring - monitoring population salt intake, progress of reformulation, and effectiveness of communication
- Regulation - Co-operation with the food industry including regulations to create a fair system so that more enlightened and progressive companies are not disadvantaged
"The huge responsibility of food manufacturers in contributing to the epidemic of cardiovascular disease must be acknowledged, and prevention implemented through food reformulation and effective voluntary, market intervention or mandatory action throughout the industry. Civil society, governments, academia, and health organizations all have a part to play. Denial and procrastination will be costly in terms of both avoidable illness and expenses."
Written by Petra Rattue