Health & Wellbeing
JAM | May 15, 2023

Jamaicans urged to ‘ditch salt, accurately measure blood pressure, and control it’

/ Our Today

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The Heart Foundation of Jamaica (HFJ) says that “eating less salt is one of the quickest and most effective ways of improving our health”.

However, cutting back on salt might prove difficult because “three quarters of the salt we eat is found in foods we buy, and it’s impossible to take it out once it’s been added. So, how can we cut back on our salt, when everything we buy is full of it?”

The HFJ highlights that salt can be found in foods such as sliced bread, biscuits, Friday night takeaways, and even perceived healthy salads, among others.

The most recent Jamaica Health and Lifestyle Survey III (2016-2017) reports that approximately one-in-every-10 Jamaican consumes excessive amounts of salt, by adding salt at the table or through frequent consumption of salty sauces and processed foods high in sodium.

The data also shows that one in every three Jamaicans or 33.8 per cent aged 15 years and older is living with hypertension. Even more worrisome results from a 2017 study showed that over 30,000 Jamaican students aged between 10-19 years have been diagnosed with hypertension.

Salt Awareness Week

Hypertension, also called high blood pressure, is known as the “silent killer”. Its symptoms are not always obvious, which is what makes it dangerous to health. Diets higher in sodium/salt are associated with an increased risk of developing hypertension.

Based on the well-established link between excess salt consumption and the development of hypertension, Salt Awareness Week has been moved to the third week of May, every year, in alignment with World Hypertension Day, which will be observed on Wednesday (May 17), under the theme, ‘Measure Your Blood Pressure Accurately, Control It, Live Longer.’

High blood pressure can increase the risk of heart attack, heart failure, stroke, kidney disease, and blindness. It is one of the major risk factors for heart disease, the number one killer worldwide, including in Jamaica.

The HFJ, states that, “the burden this poses, not only on the individual and their families, but on our health system and national budget cannot be ignored. Most of these cases are entirely preventable,” pointing out that it is “vital that we all take measures to improve our health and prevent these events from happening in the first place.”

The Foundation encourages Jamaicans to ditch the salt for the sake of our hearts, eat more fruits and vegetables, and cut back on the amount of ultra-processed products consumed daily.

Octagonal front of package food labels

The HFJ continues to stress the importance on the use of high-in black octagon front of package labels which are simple, practical and effective tool to inform the public about products that can harm health and help guide purchasing decisions.

“We are also calling on the Government to support the implementation of the High-in black octagon front of package food labels which the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)/Ministry of Health and Wellness (MoHW) research has proven to be the most effective for our consumers to identify foods high in salt, fat, and sugars,” said the organisation.

High-in Black octagon front of package food labels

Deborah Chen, executive director of the HFJ shared: “Given the magnitude the cardiovascular disease burden in Jamaica, and the complexity of dietary risk factor modification, there is need for rigorous prevention strategies and policies across multiple societal levels to make a measurable impact on reducing prevalence rates of NCD’s. Evidence-based policies, such as High-in Black Octagonal warning labels are crucial to improve the diet and health of our population.”

Dr Suzanne Soares-Wynter, clinical nutritionist at the Caribbean Institute for Health Research (CAIHR), adds that, “The existing evidence is consistent in demonstrating this labelling system effectively as it fulfils its purpose of allowing consumers to quickly, easily and correctly identify products that are excessive in nutrients associated with diet and lifestyle-related diseases such as hypertension.”

The foundation states that delaying the implementation of this form of front of package labelling “will stymie efforts to reduce hypertension” in the society, stressing that the delay continues to “contribute to the high levels of non communicable diseases and increased Government expenditure associated with treatment”.

“On this occasion, let us ensure that we ‘Know our Numbers’, get screened for hypertension and be aware of the health implications. Let us be mindful of the negative impact of excess salt on health and ditch the salt, so that we can all live longer, healthier lives, says the HFJ.


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