Less salt, less strokes says new research

Aug 12, 2011

Speaking ahead of a United Nations High Level Meeting on noncommunicable diseases, Professor Francesco Cappuccio from Warwick Medical School argues that lowering dietary salt intake has the potential to save millions of lives globally by substantially reducing levels of heart disease and strokes.

New research by Professor Cappuccio revealed this week in the British Medical Journal shows that in the United Kingdom, a reduction of 3 grams salt intake per day would prevent up to 8000 stroke deaths and up to 12,000 coronary heart disease deaths per year in the United Kingdom.

A similar reduction in the United States would result in up to 120,000 fewer cases of coronary heart disease, up to 66,000 strokes, and up to 99,000 heart attacks annually. It would also save up to $24 billion annually in health care costs.

The World Health Organization has set a global goal to reduce dietary salt intake to less than 5 grams (about 1 teaspoon) per person per day by 2025, yet salt intake in many countries is currently much higher than this. The average daily intake in the United Kingdom is currently just under 9 grams. The question, though, is not whether to reduce salt intake, but how to do so effectively?

Professor Cappuccio and his co-authors say that changing personal behavior and choice alone is not an effective or realistic option when the majority of salt is added to food before it is sold and the commercial addition of salt to food is becoming a global trend.

A 4-pronged approach is therefore required, they say, and should form the base for a comprehensive policy:
• Communication - establishing and evaluating public awareness campaigns
• Reformulation - setting progressive salt targets for reformulating existing processed food and engaging with the food industry in setting standards for new foods
• Monitoring - surveying population salt intake, progress of reformulation, and effectiveness of communication
• Regulation - engagement with industry, including regulation, to create a level playing field so as not to disadvantage more enlightened and progressive companies

Professor Cappuccio said: “The huge responsibility of food manufacturers in contributing to the epidemic of cardiovascular disease must be acknowledged.

“Prevention implemented through food reformulation and effective voluntary, market intervention, or mandatory action throughout the industry is what needs to happen with society, governments, academia, and health organizations all needing to play a part. However, denial and procrastination will be costly in terms of both avoidable illness and expenses,” he warned.

Source: News Release
University of Warwick
August 12, 2011