The world is off-track to achieve its global target of reducing sodium intake by 30 per cent by 2025, which is essential to save millions of lives globally, according to a first-of-its-kind report by the World Health Organization (WHO). Sodium, an essential nutrient, increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, and premature death when consumed in excess. The main source of sodium is table salt (sodium chloride), but it is also a part of other condiments such as sodium glutamate which is naturally found in some foods and is also used as a flavour enhancer.
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).
The report shows that only 5 per cent of WHO member states are protected by mandatory and comprehensive sodium reduction policies and 73 per cent of members lack full range of implementation of such policies. India has mandatory declaration of sodium on pre-packaged food but no other mandatory measure, WHO said.
Implementing highly cost-effective sodium reduction policies could save an estimated seven million lives globally by 2030, the report said.
It is an important component of action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target of reducing deaths from noncommunicable diseases. However, only nine countries – Brazil, Chile, Czech Republic, Lithuania, Malaysia, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Spain and Uruguay – have a comprehensive package of recommended policies to reduce sodium intake, according to the report.
“Unhealthy diets are a leading cause of death and disease globally, and excessive sodium intake is one of the main culprits,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “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,” Ghebreyesus said in a statement.
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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 includes adopting mandatory policies and WHO’s four “best buy” interventions related with sodium which greatly contribute to preventing noncommunicable diseases. These include reformulating foods to contain less salt, and setting targets for the amount of sodium in foods and meals, and establishing public food procurement policies to limit salt or sodium-rich foods in public institutions such as hospitals, schools, workplaces, and nursing homes.
The WHO also recommends front-of-package labelling that helps consumers select products lower in sodium, and behaviour change communication and mass media campaigns to reduce sodium consumption. Eating too much salt makes it the top risk factor for diet and nutrition-related deaths, WHO said. 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, the global health agency added.