A first-of-its-kind report by the World Health Organization (WHO) has revealed that the world is not on track to achieve its global target of reducing sodium intake by 30% by 2025. Sodium, an essential nutrient, increases the risk of heart disease, stroke and premature death when consumed in excess. The report highlights that only 5% of WHO member states have mandatory and comprehensive sodium reduction policies, and 73% of these states lack a full range of implementation of such policies. Implementing highly cost-effective sodium reduction policies could save an estimated 7 million lives globally by 2030, making it an essential component of achieving the Sustainable Development Goal target of reducing deaths from non-communicable diseases.
The report further identifies nine countries (Brazil, Chile, Czech Republic, Lithuania, Malaysia, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Spain and Uruguay) with a comprehensive package of recommended policies to reduce sodium intake. However, the rest of the world is yet to adopt any mandatory sodium reduction policies, leaving their populations at risk of heart attacks, strokes, and other health problems.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, said, “Unhealthy diets are a leading cause of death and disease globally, and excessive sodium intake is one of the main culprits. This report shows that most countries are yet to adopt any mandatory sodium reduction policies, leaving their people at risk of heart attack, stroke, and other health problems.”
The report calls on all countries to implement WHO’s four “best buy” interventions related to sodium, which include reformulating foods to contain less salt, setting targets for the amount of sodium in foods and meals, establishing public food procurement policies to limit salt or sodium-rich foods in public institutions, and front-of-package labelling that helps consumers select products lower in sodium.
Moreover, WHO urges countries to establish sodium content targets for processed foods, in line with the WHO Global Sodium Benchmarks, and enforce them through mandatory policies. These policies are more effective, as they achieve broader coverage and safeguard against commercial interests, while providing a level playing field for food manufacturers.
The report concludes by calling on food manufacturers to set ambitious sodium reduction targets in their products. The global average salt intake is estimated to be 10.8 grams per day, more than double the WHO recommendation of less than 5 grams of salt per day (one teaspoon). Eating too much salt makes it the top risk factor for diet and nutrition-related deaths.
As part of the report, WHO developed a Sodium country scorecard for member states based on the type and number of sodium reduction policies they have in place. Countries must work urgently to implement ambitious, mandatory, government-led sodium reduction policies to meet the global target of reducing salt consumption by 2025. The world needs action now, or many more people will experience disabling or deadly – but preventable – heart attacks and strokes.