Salt targets: A life-saving levy?

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 Salt targets:
A life-saving levy?

MELBOURNE: A new study has found that thousands of lives and millions of dollars could be saved by the implementation of national targets to reduce salt consumption, according to research to be presented at the World Heart Federation’s World Congress of Cardiology on Tuesday 6 May. Experts agree that most populations consume too much salt which is linked to one of the main risk factors of cardiovascular disease (CVD) - hypertension or high blood pressure. To reduce this burden, there is increasing international pressure in the health community and in governments to reduce the population’s salt intake, which has been shown to reduce the burden of CVD.
In South Africa, the Government set targets to reduce salt intake to less than 5g a day per person by 2020 by regulating the food industry and spreading the message for people to use less salt at the table. In 2013 legislation was passed to place mandatory maximum levels for salt in bread and other common processed foods since most of the salt we eat comes from processed food.
A new study released at the World Heart Federation’s World Congress of Cardiology evaluated the effects of such regulations on health and finances. Results suggest that South Africa’s salt target could reduce CVD deaths by 11 percent. By reducing the risk of developing CVD in the first place, it would also prevent households from having to pay costly health care fees, which can lead to additional financial deprivation. The money saved by households could be approximately US$4 million per year, mostly among middle-class families. The South African government, which underwrites health care fees for lower income households, could save approximately US$51 million per year in health care subsidies alone.
The study used economic surveys and epidemiological studies to calculate the potential impact of salt reduction in a cohort of South African adults. It estimated changes in death rates from stroke, ischemic heart disease, heart failure, and end-stage kidney disease. It also estimated changes in health care spending on CVD that would result from lower rates of CVD. The study calculated that South Africa’s salt reduction targets would translate to an average of 2.9 – 3.3 gram/day lower salt intake per person, which is similar to targets that have been developed and achieved in other countries.
“Too much salt is a hidden killer. Excess salt leads to higher blood pressure, which is one of the main risk factors for cardiovascular disease. But CVD also poses a large economic burden to society. Many studies have looked at the health benefits from reducing salt in various parts of the world, but ours is one of the first to estimate some of the economic impacts. We took the case of South Africa, where the government recently passed ambitious regulations to reduce salt in processed foods. Our study indicates that in South Africa, successfully implementing national targets like these could not only save thousands of lives each year but also avoid millions of dollars in health care expenses and thousands of cases of poverty from medical bills,” commented Dr. David Watkins, who is the study’s lead author and a physician-researcher at the University of Cape Town and the University of Washington.
The increasing burden of CVD poses an enormous threat to populations. Governments have a vital role to play in ensuring improved heart-healthy environments, by providing opportunities for people to make heart-healthy choices, through a combination of public education and national regulations such as salt targets. To mark World Heart Day 2014 on September 29, the World Heart Federation and its members are putting a spotlight on creating heart-healthy environments and calling for a world where people do not face overwhelming displays of unhealthy fast food or unwholesome school meals, all of which often contain high levels of salt. (PR)