WHO Decries High Global Sodium Intake, Stresses Need To Protect Lives

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The World Health Organization (WHO) has released a ground-breaking report on reducing sodium intake globally, highlighting that the world is not on track to achieve its goal of reducing sodium intake by 30 per cent by 2025. Sodium is a necessary nutrient, but excess intake can lead to heart disease, stroke, and premature death.

The main source of sodium is table salt, but it is also present in other condiments such as sodium glutamate. The report revealed that only 3 per cent of the world’s population is protected by mandatory sodium reduction policies and 73 per cent of WHO Member States lack full implementation of such policies.

Implementing cost-effective sodium reduction policies could save an estimated 7 million lives worldwide by 2030 and is essential to achieving the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target of reducing deaths from non-communicable diseases. However, only nine countries currently have a comprehensive package of recommended policies to reduce sodium intake. These countries are Brazil, Chile, The Czech Republic, Lithuania, Malaysia, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Spain and Uruguay.

WHO director-general, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “Unhealthy diets are a leading cause of death and disease globally, and excessive sodium intake is 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 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.”

A comprehensive approach to sodium reduction involves adopting mandatory policies and four ‘best buy’ interventions related to sodium. These include reformulating foods to contain less salt, 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, front-of-package labelling to help consumers select products lower in sodium, and behaviour 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. 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. WHO has developed a Sodium country scorecard for member states based on the type and number of sodium reduction policies they have in place.

Dr Tom Frieden, the president and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives, a not-for-profit organisation working to prevent 100 million deaths from cardiovascular disease over 30 years, said: “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. 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 grammes per day, more than double the WHO recommendation of fewer than 5 grammes of salt per day (one teaspoon). Eating too much salt is the top risk factor for diet and nutrition-related deaths. Moreover, more evidence is emerging about links between high sodium intake and an increased risk of other health conditions such as gastric cancer, obesity, osteoporosis, and kidney disease.

In conclusion, WHO called on member states to implement sodium intake reduction policies without delay and to mitigate the harmful effects of excessive salt consumption. WHO also called on food manufacturers to set ambitious sodium reduction targets in their products.

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