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WHO: Eating Less Salt Can Save Lives

FILE - A Nutrition Facts label is seen on a box of Pop Tarts at a store in New York.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says up to two million deaths a year could be prevented simply by reducing salt consumption. In the lead up to World Heart Day on September 29, WHO is calling on countries to take action on the overuse of salt, which can cause heart disease and stroke.

WHO reports non-communicable diseases, including heart disease and stroke, are the leading causes of premature death globally. These two cardiovascular diseases account for 17 and one half million deaths a year.

The U.N. agency says the overuse of salt is a major contributor to these preventable deaths. WHO Program Officer for Prevention of Non-communicable Diseases Temo Waqanivalu says the overconsumption of salt increases blood pressure, which leads to increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

“In most countries, salt is consumed mainly through processed foods or 80 percent of salt consumption is through processed foods ... It is the sodium in the salt that actually leads to this adverse health outcomes and WHO recommends the population reduce salt consumption to less than five grams per day for adults and even less for children. This equates to about a teaspoon of salt totally in a day,” says Waqanivalu.

On average, people consume 10 grams of salt per day. This is twice the WHO recommended amount from all sources, including processed foods, ready-made meals and food prepared at home.

WHO Coordinator for Prevention of Non-communicable Diseases, Timothy Armstrong, tells VOA it is not easy for people to reduce their salt intake because of its pervasiveness.

“It is very difficult not to consume more than the five grams per day. Bread is very high in salt. Many of the foods that we buy and eat are high in salt ... In many instances, many of the foods that we consume, the manufacturers could reduce the sodium levels by around five percent and we as consumers would not recognize any difference in taste. Much of sodium in food is actually over limit that our taste buds can actually perceive,” says Armstrong.

The World Health Organization is calling for food manufacturers and retailers to reduce the levels of salt in food and beverage products and to make healthy, low sodium food available and affordable. It is calling for clear food labeling so consumers can easily understand the level of salt in products.

The agency also recommends individuals and families check salt levels on processed food labels, request less salt in prepared food products, and remove salt shakers and bottled sauces from dining tables.