WHO urges countries to adopt mandatory salt reduction strategies in new report
09 Mar 2023 --- The world is off-track in reaching its global target of reducing sodium intake by 30% by 2025, which may be jeopardizing millions of lives. This is according to a new global report on sodium intake reduction by the World Health Organization (WHO).
The new analysis urges governments and F&B manufacturers to take action “without delay” to reduce the risk of death from noncommunicable diseases – a target of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
To date, only 5% of WHO member states are protected by mandatory and comprehensive sodium reduction policies, and 73% of them lack a full range of implementation of such policies.
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.
“Most countries are yet to adopt any mandatory sodium reduction policies, leaving their people at risk of heart attack, stroke and other health problems,” says Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general.
In the US, the Food and Drug Administration rolled out voluntary targets in 2021, stating that voluntary targets (rather than mandatory) were “the most effective approach” at that time to allow great flexibility as new guidelines and research evolves.
In 2021, WHO developed sodium content benchmarks across more than 60 F&B categories to facilitate industry-wide sodium reduction. The organization also encourages countries to implement its “Best Buy” interventions, a comprehensive approach to reducing sodium.
Best Buy interventions
WHO highlights that mandatory sodium reduction policies are more effective.
They achieve broader coverage and safeguard against commercial interests, while providing a level playing field for food manufacturers.
WHO’s four Best Buy interventions include:
- Reformulating foods to contain less salt and setting targets for the amount of sodium in foods and meals
- Establishing public food procurement policies to limit salt or sodium-rich foods in public institutions such as hospitals, schools, workplaces and nursing homes
- Front-of-package labeling that helps consumers select products lower in sodium
- Behavior change communication and mass media campaigns to reduce salt/sodium consumption
Food manufacturers play a critical role in helping to prevent sodium-related deaths. Figures from the American Heart Association found that 75% of US consumers’ daily sodium intake is from processed and packaged foods and restaurant foods.
sodium country scorecard for member states based on the type and number of sodium reduction policies they have in place.As part of the report, WHO developed a
The cost of inaction
While sodium is an essential nutrient, it increases the risk of heart disease, stroke and premature death when eaten in excess. WHO states that “implementing highly cost-effective sodium reduction policies could save an estimated 7 million lives globally by 2030.”
“Unhealthy diets are a leading cause of death and disease globally, and excessive sodium intake is one of the main culprits,” adds Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
The main source of sodium is table salt (sodium chloride), but it is also contained in other condiments, such as sodium glutamate.
The global average salt intake is estimated to be 10.8 g per day, more than double the WHO recommendation of less than 5 g of salt per day (one teaspoon).
“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,” says Dr. Tom Frieden, president and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives.
The not-for-profit organization works with countries to prevent 100 million deaths from cardiovascular disease over 30 years.
“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.”
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.
Food poor in nutrients has also been linked to mental health challenges, including stress, depression and anxiety.
By Missy Green
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