Heart disease and stroke are among the most common causes of death and disability in Canadians. As a doctor who commonly sees the personal and family despair, disability and death caused by heart disease and stroke, I strongly support programs that prevent these illnesses and especially those that would also reduce health care costs. Unhealthy foods (those that are high in calories, fats, salt and free sugars) are responsible for an estimated 1 in 3 deaths in Canada; is the major cause of Canadian children and adults becoming obese; and is linked to an estimated 8 in 10 people developing hypertension (6 million Canadians).
As the HSFC CIHR Chair in Hypertension Prevention and Control I fully support Bill C-460 The Sodium Reduction Strategy for Canada Act.
Reducing the amount of salt (sodium) added to foods has been recognized by the World Health Organization as one of the most effective ways to prevent cardiovascular disease and could result in 2 million Canadians with hypertension having normal blood pressure. Reducing dietary sodium may also improve other important diseases such as stomach cancer, osteoporosis, asthma, obesity, and kidney stones. Also important is that reducing dietary sodium would save our health care system billions of dollars and help keep it sustainable.
Major national health and scientific organizations in Canada have called for an effective sodium reduction program since 2007 and in 2012 their presidents have written a strong letter to Prime Minister Harper calling for action. Recently the Ontario Medical Association has been taking a very public and strong stand. The Premiers and Provincial and Territorial Health Ministers from across Canada have also agreed and indicated reducing dietary sodium is a health priority. The food industry in a Sodium Work Group Report publically agreed to a comprehensive closely monitored salt reduction program. Based on constitutional responsibility, all have requested Federal Government leadership for a closely monitored and overseen comprehensive sodium reduction program. Most importantly, government sponsored surveys indicate that most Canadians want the Federal Government to get involved and oversee an effective sodium reduction program.
Over the last 6 years, federal government programs have focused on Canadians making poor dietary choices and also asking the food industry to reduce the amount of salt it uses without government oversight or monitoring. Unfortunately, individual Canadians making poor dietary choice by intent is not the problem and the current industry based voluntary approach to reduce sodium additives have been shown repeatedly around the world to have little impact unless the government closely monitors and oversees the food industry. Notably, in 2012 a program similar to the current Canadian program (based on education and an industry based voluntary approach) was reported to be associated with increased sodium levels in Australian foods reinforcing scientific reports that voluntary programs are ineffective.
As the HSFC, CIHR Chair in Hypertension Prevention and Control, I commend Libby Davies on the introduction of the Sodium Reduction Strategy for Canada Act (Bill C-460). The bill provides concrete measures for reducing the amount of salt food processors add to food. The measures proposed in the Bill include close government monitoring and oversight and mandatory labeling of foods that fail to comply with sodium targets. If passed, Bill C-460 will for the first time provide Canadians an opportunity to even know if they are making a healthy or unhealthy food choice (even if only for sodium content). The passage of the bill will signal to Canadians that Health Canada and the Federal Government are taking an important step to protect their health and well being.
Federal politicians across all parties need to set aside political ideology and do what is needed to protect and preserve the health of Canadians. This includes supporting the passing of Bill C-460. Canadians need to hold our elected politicians accountable to represent our well being and should contact their federal representatives to encourage their strong support for this and other future bills.
Find your Federal Member of Parliament:
Read the Sodium Reduction Strategy for Canada Act, Bill C-460
Sign the petition demanding a Sodium Reduction Strategy for Canada