a civil society alliance for combatting chronic disease in the caribbean

Healthy Caribbean Coalition - Mandated salt reduction strategies are effective

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Food industry salt reduction interventions are cost effective A recent study published in Heart looked at the cost-effectiveness of four interventions aimed at reducing salt intake and preventing cardiovascular disease in Australia. Interventions included offering dietary advice for people with various levels of high blood pressure, providing incentives for voluntary changes by food manufacturers in return for an endorsed logo for packing and marketing purposes (the Tick program), and laws enforcing mandatory salt limits on food manufacturers. The cost-effectiveness of each intervention was established through a comparison of what would happen if none were in place.

Results found programs to reduce salt in the processing stage are a good investment due to improved population health and reduced health care spending. If everyone reduced their salt intake to the recommended limits, a total of 610,000 disability-adjusted life years could be prevented over a lifetime. Implementing mandatory limits similar to the volunteer-based Tick program could prevent 18% of the disease burden, which is 20 times more beneficial to the health of the population than the voluntary salt-limit approach.

In countries following western-style diets, nearly three-quarters of all dietary salt intakes come from salt added during food processing. A majority of Australian men and women, 94% and 65% respectively, exceed the recommended dietary salt intake. Making salt reductions mandatory in the food industry is different from other food regulations because the goal is to reduce a commonly used ingredient, not add ingredients to the food supply.

Reducing salt in the manufacturing stage is not only the most cost-effective intervention strategy, it will also benefit more people including children and the most disadvantaged in accessing healthcare services. Researchers note there is no evidence of harm from small, gradual reductions of salt.

The researchers believe salt needs to be limited on a wide range of regularly consumed foods, including fast food, to meet global targets for dietary salt intake.

A corporate success story

Taco Bell, a US-based fast food chain, has spent the past two years reducing the level of sodium in its menu items at 150 locations in Texas. They've done this without telling their customers and no one even noticed. In the past two years, the company has successfully reduced sodium levels in all of its menu items by 23 (cutting more than a million pounds of sodium a year).

Salt-reduction strategies can be effective if companies take a health-focused approached towards manufacturing and marketing food, and if government pressure is in place to force those unwilling to change.