By: Henrietta Afful
The world is off-track in achieving the global target of reducing sodium intake by 30% by 2025, a report released by the World Health Organisation says.
The Global report on sodium intake showed that although 194 WHO Member States committed to the target set in 2013, only 5% have implemented mandatory and comprehensive sodium reduction policies with 73% lacking full range of implementation of such policies.
Sodium is an essential nutrient but it can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and premature death when consumed in excess.
The Director General of the World Health Organisation, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attributed the high intake of sodium to unhealthy diets which is contributing to increased global deaths.
“Unhealthy diets are a leading cause of death and disease globally, and excessive sodium intake is one of the main culprits,” Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
According to the report, “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, (that is 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.”
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 they have in place.
The “Sodium Country Score Card” ranged from 1 (the lowest level of implementation) to 4 (the highest level).
According to WHO, only nine countries; Brazil, Chile, Czech Republic, Lithuania, Malaysia, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Spain and Uruguay had a score of 4, meaning they had comprehensive sodium-reduction policies.
The United States scored 3 out of 4 for having at least one mandatory sodium policy and a declaration of sodium on pre-packaged food. About 22% of the member states had this score.
The Way Forward
The World Health Organisation is therefore urging countries to implement sodium intake reduction policies without delay and to mitigate the harmful effects of excessive salt consumption.
This includes reformulating foods to contain less salt, setting targets for the amount of sodium in foods and meals, establishing policies to limit sodium-rich foods in public institutions such as schools, hospitals, workplaces, nursing homes and including front-of-package labeling that helps consumers select products lower in sodium.
“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” part of the report said.
The World Health governing body is also calling on food manufacturers to set ambitious sodium reduction targets in their products.
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.
“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,” Dr Tom Frieden, President and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives, a not-for-profit organization 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.”