A first-of-its-kind World Health Organization (WHO) Global report on sodium intake reduction shows that the world is off-track to achieve its global target of reducing sodium intake by 30 percent by 2025.
Sodium, an essential nutrient, increases the risk of heart disease, stroke and premature death when eaten in excess. The main source of sodium is table salt (sodium chloride), but it is also contained in other condiments such as sodium glutamate.
The report shows that only five per cent of WHO Member States are protected by mandatory and comprehensive sodium reduction policies and 73 per cent of WHO Member States lack full range of implementation of such policies.
Implementing highly cost-effective sodium reduction policies could save an estimated 7 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.
However today, only nine countries inclusive of Brazil, Chile, Czech Republic, Lithuania, Malaysia, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Spain and Uruguay have a comprehensive package of recommended policies to reduce sodium intake.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, said unhealthy diets are the leading cause of death and a high salt intake is a main contributing factor.
“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 calls on all countries to implement the ‘Best Buys’ for sodium reduction, and on manufacturers to implement the WHO benchmarks for sodium content in food,” Ghebreyesus contended.
A comprehensive approach to sodium reduction includes adopting mandatory policies and WHO’s four “best buy” interventions related to sodium which greatly contribute to preventing non-communicable diseases.
- Reformulating foods to contain less salt, and setting targets for the amount of sodium in foods and meals
- Establishing public food procurement policies to limit salt or sodium-rich foods in public institutions such as hospitals, schools, workplaces and nursing homes
- Front-of-package labelling that helps consumers select products lower in sodiuBehaviour change communication and mass media campaigns to reduce salt/sodium consumption
Countries are encouraged to establish sodium content targets for processed foods, in line with the WHO Global Sodium Benchmarks and enforce them through these policies.
The WHO said that mandatory sodium reduction policies are more effective because they achieve broader coverage and safeguard against commercial interests while providing a level playing field for food manufacturers.
As part of the report, WHO developed a Sodium country scorecard for Member States based on the type and number of sodium reduction policies they have in place.
“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,” said Dr Tom Frieden, President and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives, a not-for-profit organisation working with countries to prevent 100 million deaths from cardiovascular disease over 30 years.
He added: “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.”
The global average salt intake is estimated to be 10.8 grams per day, more than double the WHO recommendation of fewer than five grams of salt per day (one teaspoon). Eating too much salt makes 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.
WHO is calling on member states to implement sodium intake reduction policies without delay and to mitigate the harmful effects of excessive salt consumption. WHO also calls on food manufacturers to set ambitious sodium reduction targets in their products.