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Study Says Lower Salt, Tobacco Use Would Save Lives

Experts say the death toll from diseases such as cancer and heart disease can be reduced by almost 14 million over the next decade by reducing the amount of salt intake and imposing greater controls on tobacco use. VOA's Jessica Berman reports.

In 2005, the World Health Organization set a goal of reducing the death toll from chronic illnesses by two percent each year for the next 10 years. Chronic diseases are non-communicable illnesses that include heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

Toward that end, an international team of investigators looked to see what contribution salt intake reduction and stepped up tobacco control measures would make.

Researchers, led by Perviz Asaria of the British charitable organization King's Fund, in London, analyzed the impact of a 15-percent reduction in salt consumption in 23 countries, which carry 80 percent of the world's chronic disease burden. The countries include the United States, Russia, India, Vietnam, Ethiopia, Burma and Nigeria.

Asaria says investigators looked at the results of other studies of people from societies with different levels of salt intake. "Studies have looked at those societies and have shown in those societies where salt consumption is high, as you age your blood pressure goes up quite dramatically, which is interesting to see. So, in very tribal societies where salt isn't very easily available or not commonly used in food, people's blood pressure tends to stay about the same level they had when they were age 20."

Elevated blood pressure is a well-known risk factor for heart disease.

Researchers say 8.5 million deaths can be averted by 2015 if people consume 3 to 4.5 grams of kitchen salt per day, or around a 30 percent less salt than average.

Investigators say this can be achieved through small changes in diet, such as lowering the salt content of soy sauce, avoiding salty foods and using less of it to season food.

The study also looked at stepping up the enforcement of WHO's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

Asaria estimates 5.5 million lives could be saved each year if higher taxes on tobacco, anti-cigarette campaigns and smoking bans in the workplace and in public were vigorously enforced. "Even when implemented at fairly low levels can reduce tobacco consumption by 20 percent, which once again has a impact on the health of the population."

With some simple changes in behavior, the authors estimate it would cost about 36 cents per year per individual to avert the millions of deaths per year caused by chronic diseases.

The results of the study were published in the British medical journal, the Lancet.