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World heart day 2014: Salt reduction saves lives

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photoHanoi, 29 September 2014 - On World Heart Day (29 September), the World Health Organization (WHO) is calling on Viet Nam to take action on the overuse of salt by implementing WHO’s sodium reduction measures to cut the number of people experiencing heart disease and stroke and save lives.

The main source of sodium in our diet is salt. It can come from sodium glutamate, used as a condiment in many parts of the world.

Although research on salt consumption in Viet Nam is limited, preliminary findings  show the average salt consumption in Viet Nam ranges from 12 to 15 grams per person per day. Many people aged 26-64 have a salt intake higher than WHO’s recommended salt intake of less than 5 grams per person per day (or one teaspoon). Nearly 60% has a salt intake twice as high as the recommend daily salt intake. These figures are in line with results of similar studies in other countries such as China and Japan where people on average consume around 10 grams of salt per day as well.

Consuming too much salt can lead (or contribute) to hypertension, or high blood pressure, and greatly increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases and stroke. According to a national survey, the prevalence of hypertension in adults in Viet Nam aged 25 and older is 25.1%. WHO estimates that cardiovascular diseases are leading killer in Viet Nam, responsible for 33% of total deaths.

WHO is supporting Viet Nam in implementing WHO’s global action plan to reduce burden of noncommunicable diseases which includes nine global targets. Target four aims to reduce global salt intake by a relative 30 percent by 2025.

WHO recommends that children aged 2 to 15 years consume even less salt than the recommended less than 5 grams per day adjusted for their energy requirements for growth.

Mr Jeffery Kobza, WHO Representative to Viet Nam says “reducing salt intake is one of the most effective ways for countries to improve population health and to reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Both individuals as well as authorities can take simple salt intake reducing measures.”

Individuals and families can reduce their salt intake through a number of very simple measures:

  • Removing fish sauce, soy sauce and salt from dining tables
  • Limiting the amount of salt and fish sauce added in cooking to a total maximum amount of a fifth of a teaspoon over the course of a day
  • Limiting frequent consumption of high salt products such as crisps
  • Asking for products with less salt when buying prepared food
  • Reading food labels when buying processed food to check salt levels
  • Guiding children’s taste buds through a diet of mostly unprocessed foods without adding salt.

WHO’s also strongly encourages the government to implement evidence-based strategies to reduce salt consumption. The following strategies have proven to be very effective.

  • Regulations and policies to ensure that food manufacturers and retailers incrementally reduce the levels of salt in food and beverage products
  • Agreements with the industry to ensure that manufacturers and retailers make healthy food (with low salt) available and affordable
  • Fostering healthy eating environments (that promote salt reduction) in public places such as schools, hospitals, workplaces and public institutions
  • Ensuring clear food labelling so consumers can easily understand the level of salt in products
  • Implementing WHO’s recommendations on the marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages to children.

According to the study of the National Institute of Nutrition  the daily sodium intake in Viet Nam comes mainly from condiments added during food preparation, cooking and additional seasoning at the table (81%), from processed foods (11.6%) and from natural foods (7.4%). Seasoning and fish sauce are the main sources of sodium intake on a daily basis (35.1% and 31.6% respectively). MSG and salt are also considerable sources (7.5% and 6.1% respectively). In processed food, instant noodles are a main source of sodium (7.5%). Salted vegetables contributed to 1.4% of daily sodium intake.

In 2015, Viet Nam plans to include salt consumption in WHO’s NCD risk factors survey (STEPS) to improve data collection on salt consumption.

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