Cardiovascular diseases are a major killer around the world, even in developing countries, and high blood pressure is a risk factor for these diseases.
Eating too much salt can lead to high blood pressure, stroke and heart attack, even where it’s least expected. Researchers in Kenya from the Weill Cornell Medical College say hypertension is on a startling rise in sub-Saharan Africa. The problem is so severe in the Americas that PAHO - the Pan American Health Organization - launched a program called SaltSmart. Branka Legetic is the program coordinator.
“Hypertension is a leading problem throughout the whole world. It actually contributes to most of the risks as well as most of the diseases that are so called non-communicable diseases. It is number one," said Legetic.
Legetic says most people don’t know the dangers of eating too much sodium, the chemical found in salt. The World Health Organization recommends no more than five grams of sodium per day, the amount in a teaspoon of salt. The goal of SaltSmart is to get people to cut their salt intake in half by the year 2020.
“We know that the people now consume 10 grams, 11 grams of salt, 17 grams of salt. In some Caribbean countries, so it’s three times or two times more than recommended," she said.
In the U.S., Million Hearts, a government-sponsored program, aims to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes by 2017. Dr. Janet Wright is the executive director.
“We’re asking for this effort to begin with the individual, within each of us. I think so many of us have been touched by heart disease because it is still the number one killer in the country, one out of three deaths," said Wright.
Wright explains that simple practices can go a long way to achieving this goal.
“It could be adding a fruit or a vegetable. It could be building your way up to 150 minutes of exercise each week. And it can also mean working with your health care team to stay on medicines if they’ve been prescribed," she said.
Wright says missing even a day’s medication damages the heart, the kidneys, eyes and blood vessels. Branka Legetic also says healthy eating habits could go a long way because there is a lot of salt in processed foods.
“I think that the people have to be conscious about how much to eat and then what do they eat, and really strive toward more and more fresh and unchanged products," she said.
Th Pan American Health Organization is working with food manufacturers to reduce the amount of sodium that goes into processed food. Until that happens, the simplest way is to cut down on consumption of processed and restaurant foods.