Worldwide, the largest number of diet-related deaths, an estimated 1.89 million each year, is associated with excessive sodium intake, a well-established cause of raised blood pressure and increased risk of cardiovascular diseases. The global mean sodium intake is estimated to be 4,310 mg per day (10.78 g of salt per day), which far exceeds the physiological requirement and is more than double the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendation of fewer than 2,000 mg of sodium (equivalent to less than 5 g of salt) per day in adults.
This visualization allows users to examine the level and trends of annual estimates of the mean population salt intake (grams per day) in adults aged 25 years and older by sex in the Region of the Americas from 1990 to 2019.
In 2019, the regional mean population salt intake in adults aged 25+ years is estimated to be 8.5 grams per day, 9.5 g/day in men, and 7.1 g/day in women. This figure exceeds the physiological requirement and is 1.7 times higher than the WHO recommendation of less than 5 g/day.
In 2019, the mean population salt intake in adults varied across subregions from 7.2 g/day in Non-Latin Caribbean to 9.7 g/day in the Andean Area.
Across countries, the mean population salt intake in adults varied almost 1.8-fold, ranging from 6.7 g/day in Barbados to 11.8 g/day in Colombia, where the salt intake was 2.4-fold the WHO recommendation of less than 5 g/day.
Salt intake reduction policies and interventions
Reducing sodium intake is one of the most cost-effective ways to improve health and reduce the burden of noncommunicable diseases, as it can avert a large number of cardiovascular events and deaths at very low total program costs.
WHO recommends several sodium-related best buys policies and other measures as practical actions that should be undertaken immediately to prevent cardiovascular disease and its associated costs. These include:
- lowering of sodium content in food products;
- implementing front-of-pack labeling to help consumers select food products with lower sodium content;
- conducting mass media campaigns to alter consumer behavior around sodium; and
- implementing public food procurement and service policies to reduce sodium content in the food served and sold.
National nutrition and noncommunicable disease prevention and control policies help to catalyze and integrate regulatory, legislative, and multisectoral actions across health and other health-relevant sectors. The development, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of sodium reduction policies should be government-led and safeguarded against possible conflicts of interest.
Detailed information can be found on the interactive tool Salt/sodium reduction policies in the Region of the Americas.
WHO guideline: Sodium intake for adults and children
Sodium is an essential nutrient involved in the maintenance of normal cellular homeostasis and the regulation of fluid and electrolyte balance. It is crucial for maintaining extracellular fluid volume because of its osmotic action, and it is equally vital for muscle and nerve cell function, and for the transport of nutrients through plasma membranes. Sodium deficiency is extremely unlikely in healthy individuals; the minimum intake level required for physiological needs is not well established although it is estimated to be <500 mg/day sodium. Hence, most populations are consuming much more sodium than is physiologically necessary.
Accordingly, the WHO guideline recommends:
- a reduction in sodium intake to reduce blood pressure and risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, and coronary heart disease in adults. WHO recommends a maximum intake of less than 2000 mg/day sodium (less than 5 g/day salt) in adults;
- a reduction in sodium intake to control* blood pressure in children. The recommended maximum intake of <2000 mg/day sodium (<5g/day salt) in adults should be adjusted downward based on the energy requirements of children relative to those of adults.
* “Control” for this recommendation refers to the prevention of a deleterious rise in blood pressure with age.
Mean salt intake in adults aged 25 years and older in the Americas, 1990-2019. ENLACE Data Portal. Pan American Health Organization, 2023. [Internet] Available online at https://www.paho.org/en/enlace/salt-intake.