By Asmau Ahmad
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has released first-of-its-kind global report on sodium intake reduction.
The report showed that the world was off-track to achieve its global target of reducing sodium intake by 30 per cent by 2025.
The report released on Thursday, said that sodium, an essential nutrient, increased the risk of heart disease, stroke and premature death when eaten in excess.
According to it, the main source of sodium is table salt (sodium chloride), but it is also contained in other condiments such as sodium glutamate.
It said that the report showed that only five per cent of WHO Member States were protected by mandatory and comprehensive sodium reduction policies and 73 per cent of WHO member states lacked full range of implementation of such policies.
“Implementing highly cost-effective sodium reduction policies can save an estimated seven million lives globally by 2030.
“It is an important component of action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal target of reducing deaths from noncommunicable diseases.
“But today, only nine countries (Brazil, Chile, Czech Republic, Lithuania, Malaysia, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Spain and Uruguay) have a comprehensive package of recommended policies to reduce sodium intake,” it said.
Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General said that unhealthy diets were a leading cause of death and disease globally, and excessive sodium intake remained one of the main culprits.
“This report shows that most countries are yet to adopt any mandatory sodium reduction policies, leaving their people at risk of heart attack, stroke, and other health problems.
“WHO urges all countries to implement the ‘Best Buys’ for sodium reduction, and on manufacturers to implement the WHO benchmarks for sodium content in food,” Ghebreyesus said.
According to him, a comprehensive approach to sodium reduction includes adopting mandatory policies and WHO’s four “best buy” interventions related with sodium which greatly contribute to preventing noncommunicable diseases.
WHO boss said the four best buys included first, reformulating foods to contain less salt, and setting targets for the amount of sodium in foods and meals.
Others, he said, were establishing public food procurement policies to limit salt or sodium rich foods in public institutions such as hospitals, schools, workplaces and nursing homes.
“Third is rant-of-package labelling that helps consumers select products lower in sodium.
“While the fourth is behaviour change communication and mass media campaigns to reduce salt/sodium consumption.”
He said that countries were encouraged to establish sodium content targets for processed foods, in line with the WHO Global Sodium Benchmarks and enforce them through these policies.
According to him, mandatory sodium reduction policies are more effective, as they achieve broader coverage and safeguard against commercial interests, while providing a level playing field for food manufacturers.
He said that as part of the report, WHO developed a Sodium country score card for Member States based on the type and number of sodium reduction policies in place.
Dr Tom Frieden, President and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives NGO says, “This important report demonstrates that countries must work urgently to implement ambitious, mandatory, government-led sodium reduction policies to meet the global target of reducing salt consumption by 2025.
“Working with countries to prevent 100 million deaths from cardiovascular disease over 30 years. There are proven measures that governments can implement and important innovations, such as low sodium salts.
“The world needs action, and now, or many more people will experience disabling or deadly—but preventable—heart attacks and strokes,” Frieden said.
According to him, the global average salt intake is estimated to be 10.8 grams per day, more than double the WHO recommendation of less than 5 grams of salt per day (one teaspoon).
He said that eating too much salt made it the top risk factor for diet and nutrition-related deaths.
“More evidence is emerging documenting links between high sodium intake and increased risk of other health conditions such as gastric cancer, obesity, osteoporosis and kidney disease,” Frieden said.
The report says that WHO called on member states to implement sodium intake reduction policies without delay and to mitigate the harmful effects of excessive salt consumption.
It said that WHO also called on food manufacturers to set ambitious sodium reduction targets in their products.