SWITZERLAND – The World Health Organization (WHO) has noted with concern that the global average daily salt intake is more than double its recommended levels, placing the world off-course to meeting its 2025 goal of a 30% reduction in sodium intake.
As a result, it has urged Member States to swiftly implement rules to reduce sodium intake and lessen the negative effects of excessive salt intake.
The WHO has also urged food manufacturers to set ambitious salt reduction targets for their products.
The Organization recommends fewer than 5 grams (one teaspoon) of salt per day, whereas the average salt intake worldwide is estimated to be 10.8 grams per day.
According to WHO, excessive salt intake is the key risk factor for food and nutrition-related mortality.
It is becoming more and more clear that eating a lot of sodium increases the risk of developing other illnesses like obesity, osteoporosis, kidney disease, and stomach cancer.
Even while sodium is a necessary nutrient, eating too much of it raises your risk of heart disease, stroke, and early death.
Table salt (sodium chloride) is the primary source of sodium, however, it can also be found in other condiments like sodium glutamate.
According to the report, just 5% of WHO Member States have comprehensive sodium reduction policies that are legally required. The remaining 73% of WHO Member States do not fully implement these policies.
An estimated 7 million lives could be saved worldwide by the implementation of very cost-effective salt reduction strategies by 2030, which is an important component of action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target of reducing deaths from noncommunicable diseases.
However, only nine nations (Brazil, Chile, Czech Republic, Lithuania, Malaysia, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Spain, and Uruguay) now have a complete set of recommended policies to lower sodium intake.
In 2021, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) updated its guidelines on sodium levels for 163 foods, including those that are commercially processed, packaged and prepared.
It aimed to cut the average sodium intake from 3,400 to 3,000 milligrams a day over the next 2.5 years.
“Unhealthy diets are a leading cause of death and disease globally, and excessive sodium intake is one of the main culprits. 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.
“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,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.
Comprehensive approach needed
Adopting mandatory regulations and the four salt-related WHO “best buy” measures, which make a significant contribution to the prevention of noncommunicable illnesses, are part of a comprehensive approach to sodium reduction.
These include reformulating foods to contain less salt, 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
It also involves front-of-package labeling that helps consumers select products lower in sodium and behaviour change communication and mass media campaigns to reduce salt/sodium consumption.
According to the WHO Global Sodium Benchmarks, countries are encouraged to set sodium content targets for processed foods and enforce them through these policies.
Mandatory salt reduction programs are thought to be more effective because they attain wider coverage, protect against commercial interests, and give food manufacturers an equal playing field.
As part of the report, WHO developed a Sodium country scorecard for Member States based on the type and number of sodium reduction policies they have in place.
“This important report demonstrates that countries must work urgently to implement ambitious, mandatory, government-led sodium reduction policies to meet the global target of reducing salt consumption by 2025.
“There are proven measures that governments can implement and important innovations, such as low sodium salts. The world needs action, and now, or many more people will experience disabling or deadly—but preventable—heart attacks and strokes,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, President and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives, a not-for-profit organization working with countries to prevent 100 million deaths from cardiovascular disease over 30 years.