Reducing dietary salt is recommended by the recent United Nations Summit to prevent non communicable diseases and the World Health Organization to improve population health. Excess dietary salt increases blood pressure causing approximately 30% of hypertension and is a probable pro carcinogen for gastric cancer and is also associated with kidney stones and osteoporosis. Where assessed, the salt consumption is more than 5/g day, maximum quantity recommended by WHO. African descent people are particularly susceptible to the adverse blood pressure effects of excess salt. High levels of blood pressure is a contributory factor in at least 40% of all heart disease and stroke which represent 45 % of NCDs. Hypertension is a major health risk in the Americas where between 20-35% of the adult population has elevated blood pressure.
- Habitual consumption of excessive salt may seem harmless, but it is linked to a number of health risks which cause millions of premature deaths annually. The most common of these risks is high blood pressure, which alone accounts for an estimated 9.4 million deaths each year.
- Regardless of location, among people living to age 80, over 90% can expect to develop hypertension. The direct and indirect costs of increased blood pressure are estimated to consume 5-15% of the GDP in high-income countries and 2.5-8% in Latin America and the Caribbean.
- WHO/FAO experts recommend dietary salt intake of less than 5 grams per day, equivalent to 2000 mg of sodium. In the Americas, people are consuming up to three times this level including children.
Commercially prepared meals often have hidden salt, with no information available on the amount of salt it contains. Ask for less salt next time you eat at a restaurant.
Elevated blood pressure accounts for about two-thirds of strokes and about one-half of heart disease, and the risk of developing hypertensive complications increases with age. Even blood pressure rising within the normal range, lower than what most health care professionals consider to be ‘hypertension’, poses risk, causing about half of the disease attributed to elevated blood pressure.
About 30% of people with hypertension would have normal blood pressure and the others would have better blood pressure control if they reduced their salt intake to a healthy level. About 10% of cardiovascular disease is caused by excess dietary salt. Pre-prepared foods consumed outside the home are usually the largest source of dietary salt but in some regions, high quantities of salt are added to food cooked at home.
The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is launching a region-wide action – Cardiovascular Disease Prevention through Dietary Salt Reduction. It intends population-level interventions, shown to be the most cost-effective in improving health in low to middle-income countries, and expected to be similarly cost-effective in high-income countries.