The Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) is calling on consumers to “Stop, look, choose…the lower salt option” during this year’s World Salt Awareness Week, March 10–16.
This year’s campaign highlights the importance of nutrition labelling to inform consumers about the salt content in processed foods, a growing source of dietary salt in developing countries and the main source in developed ones.
“Most people do not even realize how much salt they are consuming,” said Dr. Branka Legetic, coordinator of PAHO/WHO’s Salt Reduction Initiative. “It’s critical to be aware of the salt that is already in the foods we eat and when possible to choose the lower-salt option. For that, we need nutrition labels that clearly show salt content. This is a key regulatory measure that countries with salt-reduction goals have been adopting.”
Consuming more than 5 grams of salt per day increases the risk of high blood pressure, which is the leading risk factor for death from heart attack, stroke, and kidney failure. In most countries of the Americas, average intake is significantly higher than that. For example, daily salt intake averages 12 grams in Argentina, 11 grams in Brazil, and 8.5-9 grams in Canada, Chile and the United States.
To reduce these averages, a growing number of countries in the region have adopted national salt reduction strategies. Argentina became the second country in the world (after South Africa) to pass a comprehensive law for salt reduction. Its law establishes a timeline for the food-processing industry to reduce salt in its products, requires warning labels about the risks of excess salt, limits the size of retail packages of salt, and establishes penalties for violators. Other countries with national salt reduction strategies include Brazil, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba, Mexico, Suriname, Uruguay and the United States. In addition to Argentina, other Southern Cone countries and Canada and the United States are the only countries that currently legally require labelling of salt content on processed foods.
To encourage further efforts of this kind, PAHO/WHO’s SaltSmart Consortium last year approved a 2013-2018 action plan that recommends measures including public-awareness campaigns to educate consumers about food labels, and negotiations with food processors on voluntary reductions in the salt content of their products.
“Carrying out these actions requires collaboration between the public and private sectors, with support from scientific researchers, consumer advocates, and the public at large,” said Legetic.