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Shaukat Ali Jawaid
 

Reducing overuse
of salt to combat
Hypertension & Stroke 

ShaukatJawaid

According to World Health Organization Non-Communicable Diseases which includes heart diseases and stroke were the major cause of premature deaths in the 21st century. It has called upon the member countries to take action on the overuse of salt by implementing WHO’s sodium reduction recommendations to reduce the number of people experiencing heart diseases and stroke thus saving many precious lives. WHO has called for reducing the global salt intake by 30% by 2025?

It may be mentioned here that the main source of sodium in our diet is salt which comes from sodium glutamate and sodium chloride.  In a large number of countries it is estimated that almost 80% of salt intake comes from consuming too much salt which can lead and also contributes to increased prevalence of high blood pressure thereby increasing the risk of heart diseases as well as stroke. A person is supposed to take 5grams of salt per day but at present on average people consume about ten grams of salt. Sources of salt are also processed foods, ready –made meals and food prepared at home. WHO says that children aged two to fifteen yeas should consume even less salt which should be adjusted to their energy requirements essential for growth.

Developing Third world countries in Asia in particular including Pakistan, the salt consumption is much higher and we need to change our dietary habits. While curative services are very expensive which we cannot afford, we need to give emphasis to prevention of diseases and salt reduction could be one of the important preventive strategies. In our daily life we use salt even on fruits or in juices not to mention the use of salt at the time of lunch or dinner at the dinning table. We are also very fond of Achhar and Chattni which also contains lot of salt. As regard the children, all the junk food from French fries to chips and Slanty and similar all other stuff very popular with the children also contains lot of salt. The children love this junk food and the result is that our children are obese or overweight and they are at a much greeter’s risk of developing heart disease including hypertension in their adult life. All this will add up to the disease burden we already have.  There is an urgent need for the Federal Health Ministry, Provincial Health Departments, Department of Industries, Food manufacturers to take up this issue and the government agencies must ensure that the food manufacturers reduce the salt intake in their products. The junk food prepared for the children in particular must not contain so much salt as at present. These are all very simple measures which if taken can go a long way in reducing our disease burden in the days to come.

World Health Organization has already come up with Evidence-based strategies to reduce the salt consumption. Now it is the responsibility of the member countries to make policies and get them implemented. Salient features of these recommendations are:

  1. Governments should come up with regulations and policies that ensure that food manufactures and retailers reduce the levels of salt in food and beverage products.
  2. Food manufacturers should be persuaded to ensure that they produce healthy food with low salt.
  3. Foster healthy eating environments which promote salt reduction.
  4. Ensure clear food labeling so that the consumers can easily find out the level of salt in these products.

Families can also contribute in this salt reduction campaign by removing the salt dispensers and bottled sauces from dinning tables. They should reduce the amount of salt used in cooking and  limit the frequent use of high salt products.

In order to save the health of the children, Pakistan Paediatric Associaton  should come forward and if it starts making noise and tries to convince the health authorities, there are much greater chances that the salted junk food available for the children can be checked. These junk food manufactures are spending millions of rupees on promoting these products through the media, Television channels in particular and their advertising campaign is mostly directed at the children. Keeping in view the financial incentives involved, it will not be easy to convince the media houses to stop these advertisements altogether but  through concerted efforts it is possible for the Pakistan Paediatric Association  and other healthcare professionals to ensure that at least the salt components in these food items and junk food is reduced considerably. It requires coordinated efforts on the part of the Food Department and Food industry as well as the Health Departments. At present no one seems to be bothered about it but efforts needs to be made to wake them up, force them to discharge their responsibilities by saving the health of children because healthy children will ensure Healthy Nation. We already have too many health problems even as regards communicable diseases which we have so far failed to control. The burden of Non-Communicable Diseases which are now also assuming alarming proportions hence needs to be checked giving preference to preventive strategies, reduction in salt consumption being one of them in addition to adopting healthy life style, regular exercise and use of healthy food. All this requires very simple measures not at all difficult to undertake and initiate.

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