World Health Organisation report calling for legislation if food industry does not reduce salt

10th April

A report published by the World Health Organisation (WHO) has called on multinational food companies to lower the salt content of their products to the lowest level possible in all countries where they market, and have advised that if goals are not met in a timely way, regulatory approaches should be initiated and enforced (1).

Cardiovascular disease is the biggest cause of death in both developed and developing countries – killing around 12.7 million people each year (2). Raised blood pressure is the biggest single cause of cardiovascular disease accounting for 62% of strokes and 49% of heart disease (1), and our current high salt intake (9-15g salt/day worldwide) is the major determinant of high blood pressure. If the average population daily intake of salt was reduced by 6g a day this would lead to a 24% reduction in deaths from strokes and an 18% reduction in deaths from coronary heart disease, thus preventing approximately 2.6 million stroke and heart attack deaths each year worldwide (3).

The WHO report also highlighted that despite the fact that salt intake in most countries is very high, commitments to reduce salt intake is still not a priority in most countries. Indeed, many countries do not even have a strategy to reduce salt intake nor do they have a dietary recommendation for salt intake despite the WHO report reiterating their previous recommendation of a maximum salt intake for adults of 5g a day (1).

Professor MacGregor, Chairman of WASH, strongly supports the recommendations of the WHO report and has called for both Governments and Industry to commit to reducing the average salt consumption of the adult population to the WHO maximum of 5g salt/day (1). “Ministries of Health throughout the world should be implementing policies to reduce population salt consumption whilst food companies should be lowering the salt content of their products. In many countries approximately 80% of a person’s salt intake comes from processed foods, and if we are really going to save lives around the world we need to make sure that food producers make salt reductions in all their markets. This will have huge benefits for the population.”

In the UK there has been a public health campaign to reduce salt intake in the whole population, which has included both Government and Industry efforts. Recent research has shown that this campaign has been a success and salt intake has already started to fall. The experience of Finland, which has had a salt reduction programme running since the late 1970s, has also shown that population-wide reduction of dietary salt has lead to a large population-wide reduction in blood pressure and parallel reductions in deaths from stroke and heart disease.
 
WASH are calling on the food industry to be fully supportive and act on the recommendations of the WHO, in order to save millions of lives throughout the world.
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References:
(1) World Health Organisation.  Reducing salt intake in populations - Report of a WHO Forum and Technical Meeting.  World Health Organisation; 2007.  Available at http://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/Salt_Report_VC_april07.pdf.
(2) The Atlas of Heart Disease and Stroke. World Health Organisation. Available at  http://www.who.int/cardiovascular_diseases/en/cvd_atlas_01_types.pdf. Accessed  10 April 2007.
(3) The calculation of 2.6million lives saved for each 6g drop in daily population intake of salt is based on: Feng J He & Graham A MacGregor. How far should salt intake be reduced? Hypertension. 2003; 42: 1093-1099.    

 

 Deaths (millions) i Deaths saved with a 6 g/d reduction in salt intake (%) ii Deaths saved with a 6 g/d reduction in salt intake (millions)
Global stroke deaths 5.5 24% 1.32
Global CHD deaths 7.218% 1.30
Total 12.7  2.62

 

i The Atlas of Heart Disease and Stroke. World Health Organisation. Available at  http://www.who.int/cardiovascular_diseases/en/cvd_atlas_01_types.pdf. Accessed 10 April 2007

ii Feng J He & Graham A MacGregor. How far should salt intake be reduced? Hypertension. 2003;42: 1093-1099.