Cutting the intake of salt in people's diets will save millions
of lives and public money, experts warn adding that its time for the governments
around the world to decide how best to reduce population salt consumption.
Speaking ahead of a United Nations High Level Meeting on
non-communicable diseases, Professor Francesco Cappuccio and colleagues argue
that lowering dietary salt intake has the potential to substantially reduce
levels of stroke and heart disease and save millions of lives globally. Studies
also show that reducing salt intake is cost saving.
The question, they say, is not whether to reduce salt intake
but how to do so.
The World Health Organisation has set a global goal to
reduce dietary salt intake to less than 5 g (about one teaspoon) per person per
by 2025, yet salt intake in many countries is currently much higher than this.
The authors say this could be done through mass media
campaigns and engagement with the food industry to set limits on the salt
content of processed foods.
For example, in the UK a reduction of 3 g salt intake
per day would prevent up to 8,000 stroke deaths and up to 12,000 coronary heart
disease deaths per year.
A similar reduction in the USA would result in up to 120,000
fewer cases of coronary heart disease, up to 66,000 strokes and up to 99,000
heart attacks annually. It would also save up to $24 billion annually in health
However, changing personal behaviour and choice alone is not
an effective or realistic option when the majority of salt is added to food
before it is sold and food marketing relies on taste, write the authors.
Furthermore, the commercial addition of salt to food is becoming a global trend
as the worldwide food economy changes.
A four-pronged approach is therefore required, they say, and
should form the base for a comprehensive policy:
• Communication - establishing and evaluating public awareness campaigns
• Reformulation - setting progressive salt targets for reformulating existing processed food and engaging with the food industry in setting standards for new foods
• Monitoring - surveying population salt intake, progress of reformulation, and effectiveness of communication
• Regulation - engagement with industry, including regulation, to create a level playing field so as not to disadvantage more enlightened and progressive companies
"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," say the
"Civil society, governments, academia, and health
organisations all have a part to play. Denial and procrastination will be
costly in terms of both avoidable illness and expenses," they conclude.