Copenhagen, 4 April 2013
Reducing salt intake is one of the easiest ways to reduce high blood pressure and therefore the risks of stroke, and cardiac and kidney disease. Reducing salt intake to less than 5 g per day (the equivalent of about 1 teaspoon) reduces the risk of stroke by 23% and reduces the general rates of cardiovascular disease by 17%. The daily intake of most people in the WHO European Region is about 8–11 g, far above the recommended level.
The shaker on the dining table, however, does not account for the largest share of salt intake. For example, 80% of intake in the European Union (EU) comes from processed foods such as cheese, bread and ready meals. Many people consume far more salt than they realize, with negative results for their blood pressure and general cardiovascular health.
“Salt reduction is one of the most cost-effective ways of reducing the considerable economic burden of high blood pressure,” said Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe. “While any reduction in salt is positive, in many countries the salt we add at the table is the least of our worries. It’s the salt that’s cooked into foods like bread and meat products that tips the balance. Unless labelling is good and consumers check, it’s easy to overlook this salt.”
Policy and public health measures to support salt reduction
On 4 April, WHO/Europe will publish a report entitled “Mapping salt reduction initiatives in the WHO European Region”, an overview of current initiatives in European countries. Several countries have already reaped significant results from measures including food and product labelling, consumer education, updating of national dietary guidelines and negotiating with food manufacturers to reduce the salt content in processed foods.
- Warning labels for high-salt food and salt content in many food categories are compulsory. The launch of the legislation on high-salt-content labelling led to industry reformulating many products in a bid to avoid such labels. This in turn led to a 20–25% reduction in salt in various products, including bread.
- Education on a healthy diet (including low salt intake) is compulsory for schoolchildren.
- Daily salt intake has fallen by 40% over the last 30 years; it is now 7 g for women and 8.3 g for men.
- More than three quarters of foods display “traffic light” nutrition labelling that indicates fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt content. Red, amber and green circles mean high, medium and low, respectively. This voluntary system was introduced in 2006.
- Average daily salt intakes fell by 10% in the last decade, to 8.6 g.
- The number of consumers cutting down on salt has increased by one third.
- New clinical practice guidelines introduced in 2005 focused on improving the clinical detection and management of high blood pressure. Their use was found to improve case-finding and patient use of prescribed medications, reduce salt consumption, increase regular exercise by patients, increase the proportion of patients with healthy blood pressure (from 14% to 26.2%) and reduce the proportion with high blood pressure (from 51.6% to 35.8%).
Know the enemy and take action
The 12 high-salt foods to watch out for are: bread, meat products, cheese, ready meals, soup, breakfast cereals, fish products, crisps and savoury snacks, catering meals, restaurant meals, sauces, condiments and spices, and potato products.
People can cut their risk of heart attack and stroke, and control their blood pressure by:
- eating a healthy diet
- reducing salt intake (to less than 5 g daily)
- exercising regularly
- stopping smoking
- reducing alcohol consumption
- managing stress.
For further information, contact:
WHO Regional Office for Europe
Tel.: +45 45 33 67 40