For the last decade, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) have been working to better inform governments and citizens around the world of the health effects of excess sodium consumption.
Reducing salt intake is as important to prevent heart disease as stopping smoking, according to the WHO Sodium Guidelines.
But that doesn’t seem to weigh on government decision-making. In Canada, we struggle to convince the government to implement practical public policies that have the potential to meaningfully improve Canadian’s health. Despite having all the information, recommendations, and research evidence, effective results in Canada have been all but thwarted by our current government.
Sodium regulation in Canada struck down
Just last year (May 2013) Bill C-460 An Act respecting the Implementation of the Sodium Reduction Strategy for Canada was struck down. Based on the findings of the expert Sodium Working Group in 2010, the bill provided concrete measures for reducing the amount of salt added to processed food. The bill proposed close government monitoring and oversight and mandatory labeling of foods to ensure sodium targets were met.
It would have been a wonderful start to help improve the health of Canadians.
But today Canadians have no policy, no regulations and have implemented no changes to make it easier for Canadians to choose healthy foods and beverages, or as our governments like to say, to help us, “make the healthy choice the easy choice.”
In 2010, high dietary sodium killed over 13,000 Canadians. The Government of Canada cannot afford not to act.
It’s time we put sodium back on the table.
Advocating for Sodium Reduction
World Salt Week is extremely important to helping world populations better understand how to reduce sodium consumption, reduce the burden of disease caused by high sodium intake, and improve population health.
I have been a long time advocate of sodium reduction for the prevention of hypertension. We know that citizens are finding it difficult to effectively control their sodium intake on their own. Food labels are incredibly difficult to read, making it difficult to calculate sodium intake. Few people are even aware of the recommended limits they should strive for in their daily sodium consumption.
Working as the Canadian Institute for Health Research, Heart and Stroke Foundation Hypertension Chair for Canada, one of my primary objectives is to work collaboratively with Canada’s leading health organizations is to raise awareness on the prevention of hypertension and be an advocate for dietary policy to help Canadian citizens control sodium intake
As a population, Canadians consume an average of 3,400 mg of sodium per day, twice the recommended daily intake of 1500mg for a non-hypertensive adult and significantly higher than the maximum recommended limit, and national goal, of 2300mg/day.
The fact is, over 75% of Canadians’ sodium intake comes from processed food, which we, as individuals, can’t control. This is why policy to regulate sodium in these foods is an effective concrete way to help Canadians meet current targets and improve the health of our population.
A government initiative (the expert Sodium Working Group in 2010) resulted in real concrete recommendations. These were given to the government. Now – four years after the Sodium Reduction Strategy was released – we are still trying to be heard, urging stronger government action.
World Salt Week 2014
World Salt Week helps put the sodium issue on the table around the world. Worldwide, eating habits have changed: not for the better.
Branka Legetic, WHO/PAHO’s Regional Advisor, Non-Communicable Diseases says that populations around the world have drastically changed their nutritional habits. “We used to cook and eat at home, but more and more, people are consuming outside of the house: fast food, supermarket packaged foods.”
“It used to be that only people with hypertension were advised to watch their salt, now this is something we have to look closely at, the salt consumption of children as well as the general population.”
Concern about sodium consumption shouldn’t be limited to just those with heart problems: everyone needs to watch their salt intake to prevent heart and other serious health problems.
I encourage all Canadians to take part in urging their family, neighbors and friends to lower their salt consumption, and find healthy delicious alternatives especially fresh foods, flavorful foods, and otherwise healthy choices to include in their diet.
I will continue to advocate for government policy that will help regulate salt in foods at the grocery store, and provide better package and menu labeling to help you make healthy choices.
This issue needs to be addressed, or Canadian health will continue to suffer.
I vow to stay focused on raising awareness around sodium reduction every week of the year. This includes disseminating a free newsletter “The Science of Salt Weekly,” which features summaries of Medline-retrieved articles on dietary sodium.
I need your help to spread this message to help all Canadians reduce their risk for hypertension. This week, I ask that you join me in spreading the word about sodium reduction.
Please take part in World Salt Week 2014 and help put this issue onto kitchen tables across the country, and around the world.
On Twitter, use hashtags: #SaltSwitch #SaltWeek2014
On your web site or blog:
Share the poster above or find a page to link to on http://www.worldactiononsalt.com
In your kitchen:
Read food labels on the foods in your cupboards. Talk about the amount of sodium in processed food to other members of your family and your friends. Calculate how much sodium you consume. Does it exceed 2300 mg per day?
Sign up for Science of Salt Weekly SOSW for updates on the science behind dietary sodium research.