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15-08-2011 | Cardiology | Article

Call for stronger policies for population-wide salt reduction

Abstract

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MedWire News: Reducing the dietary salt intake of the general population could dramatically reduce the number of deaths from cardiovascular disease and save billions in healthcare costs, say UK researchers.

Francesco Cappuccio (University of Warwick, Coventry) and colleagues say that the goal set by the World Health Organization to reduce global dietary salt intake to less than 5 g per person per day by 2025 could be achieved through mass media campaigns and cooperation with the food industry.

Based on previous studies, Cappuccio et al estimate that in the UK, reducing dietary salt intake by 3 g per day per person would result in a fall in blood pressure of 2.5/1.4 mmHg.

This would prevent 6500-8000 deaths from stroke and 7500-12,000 deaths from coronary heart disease annually, they write in the BMJ.

In the USA, the same reduction in dietary salt intake would prevent 60,000-120,000 cases of coronary heart disease and 32,000-66,000 cases of stroke, with a corresponding reduction in all-cause mortality.

It would also save up to US $24 billion (€16.84 billion) in US healthcare costs annually, they say.

However, "changing personal behavior and choice alone is not an effective or realistic option when the majority of salt is added to food before it is sold and food marketing relies on taste," argue the authors.

They believe that a four-pronged approach must therefore be taken to form comprehensive policy.

Firstly, say Cappuccio and team, communication is key to establishing and evaluating public awareness campaigns.

Secondly, progressive salt targets must be set for the food industry to reformulate existing processed food products. New standards must then be put in place for new products.

Thirdly, the group says, population salt intake must be surveyed, reformulation progress must be monitored, and the effectiveness of communication measured.

Finally, government policy must engage the food industry and create a level playing field, "so as not to disadvantage more enlightened and progressive companies," write the authors.

"Civil society, governments, academia and health organizations all have a part to play," they continue.

Cappuccio and team conclude: "Denial and procrastination will be costly in terms of both avoidable illness and expenses."

MedWire (www.medwire-news.md) is an independent clinical news service provided by Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2011

By Piriya Mahendra

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