New Delhi, Mar 9: The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Thursday called on countries to make “massive efforts” to reduce people’s salt intake that can prevent the risk of heart problems, stroke, and cancers.
In a first-of-its-kind global report on sodium intake reduction, the global health body noted that the world is off-track to achieve its global target of reducing sodium intake by 30 per cent by 2025.
The report shows that only 5 per cent countries are protected by mandatory and comprehensive sodium reduction policies, while 73 per cent, including India, lack full range of implementation of such policies.
Implementing highly cost-effective sodium reduction policies could save an estimated seven million lives globally by 2030, the WHO said.
“Every country should aim to reduce sodium intake but more importantly to reduce sugar and carbohydrate intake which are responsible for insulin resistance and combine to reduce your blood pressure,” Dr Arun Gupta, senior paediatrician, and Convener of Nutrition Advocacy in Public Interest (NAPi) — a national think-tank on nutrition, told IANS.
Sodium is an essential nutrient, but eating too much salt makes it the top risk factor for diet and nutrition-related deaths. The main source of sodium is table salt (sodium chloride), but it is also contained in other condiments such as sodium glutamate.
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).
Several studies have revealed that increased intake of salt in food items can raise the risk of premature death. Emerging evidence also links high sodium intake and increased risk of other health conditions such as gastric cancer, obesity, osteoporosis, and kidney disease.
Dr. Gupta and NAPi have been advocating that all pre-packaged food products should have front-of-pack labelling (FOPL) to indicate salt, sugar and saturated fat content to warn the public.
An FOPNL is regarded as the most effective policy solution which can inform consumers in an easy-to-understand manner about high levels of sugar, sodium and saturated fat that may be present and discourage the purchase of unhealthy packaged food.
“Unhealthy diets are a leading cause of death and disease globally, and excessive sodium intake is one of the main culprits,” WHO Director General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the WHO report also called on manufacturers to implement the WHO benchmarks for sodium content in food.
Mandatory sodium reduction policies are more effective, it said, as they achieve broader coverage and safeguard against commercial interests, while providing a level playing field for food manufacturers.