Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death and disability in the world and raised blood pressure from a systolic above 115 mmHg is one of the most important direct causes, accounting for more than 60 per cent (60%) of all strokes and approximately 50 per cent (50%) of all heart disease. The evidence strongly demonstrates that a high salt intake is a major cause of elevated blood pressure and that the benefits of a modest reduction in salt intake are large. For instance, a reduction in salt intake of 6g/day through the fall in blood pressure that would occur would cause an approximate 24 per cent (24%) reduction in stroke and a 18 per cent (18%) reduction in coronary heart disease mortality.
Based on the evidence, governments and the WHO have recommended a reduction in salt intake from the current worldwide intake of 10-15g/day to a maximum of 5-6g/day. In most countries approximately 80 per cent (80%) of a person's salt intake comes from processed and catered foods, the salt content of which the consumer has no control over, often has no knowledge about and is usually very high. This accounts for why salt intake in most countries is so high, because it is passive, i.e. it is added to food without the consent and, very often, without the knowledge of consumers making it very difficult to avoid. The only way to reduce salt intake is by a slow reduction in the amount of salt in all foods where it has been added; therefore the onus is on the food industry to reduce the salt content of their products. Studies by the WHO have shown that reducing population salt intake by this approach is one of the most cost effective strategies for improving health. It also has the added benefit that it does not require a change in consumer behaviour.
Therefore, to encourage action on salt worldwide, we set up a World Action group (WASH) based on the model that was developed in the UK by the Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH). CASH is a group of specialists concerned with salt and its effects on health. CASH is working to reach a consensus with the food industry and the UK Government over the harmful effects of a high salt diet, and bring about a reduction in the amount of salt in processed foods, catered foods and restaurant food, as well as salt added to cooking, and at the table. As a result, the salt concentration in nearly all categories of food is falling. This illustrates that it is possible to reduce the salt concentration of nearly all foods and this public health strategy now needs to be spread out worldwide.
WASH, like CASH, will work to reduce salt in the diet worldwide by exerting pressure on multi-national food companies to reduce the salt content of their products. WASH will also approach different country's ministry of health to influence government policy on salt reduction highlighting the need for a salt reduction strategy. At the same time WASH will work closely with the WHO and has already stimulated a new initiative by the WHO to take a more coherent strategy towards salt reduction worldwide. There is no doubt that a leading group of worldwide experts will have enormous influence on the media and food industry
World Action on Salt and Health's mission is to achieve a reduction in dietary salt intake around the world from the current intake of 10-15g/day to the World Health Organisation (WHO) maximum target of 5g/day. This fall in salt intake and the resulting fall in blood pressure would lead to major reductions in both incidents of, and deaths from Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) ie, stroke, heart failure and heart attacks, with a major reduction in the disability that results from CVD.
- To reach a consensus with food manufacturers that there is strong evidence that salt is a major cause of high blood pressure and has other adverse health effects such as osteoporosis and stomach cancer
- To act as a global monitor highlighting internationally marketed products that are high in salt
- To persuade international food companies to employ a global salt reduction plan, so that not only will the salt content of their processed food products be reduced but it will be uniform in each country they market their products in
- To ensure a standard clear and comprehensive front of pack nutritional labelling system, for the salt content of all processed foods, that will be applied universally, ie, the Multiple Traffic Light labelling system developed by the Food Standards Agency in the UK
- To ensure the body of evidence from the scientific community about the dangers of excessive salt consumption is translated into policy by each individual Government around the world
- To share best practice for salt reduction strategies with Governments and health organisations worldwide
An average reduction of six grams a day over the next decade could easily be achieved if the food industry acts.
Through the fall in blood pressure that would ensue, this reduction in salt intake will have a large impact on reducing strokes by approximately 24 per cent and heart attacks by 18 per cent, as well as having other health benefits for the global population.
A 6 gram reduction in salt intake would prevent 5.2 million incidents of CVD a year half of which are fatal.