who World Health Organizationdraws up a global ranking on the national policies of 177 states (including Italy) to reduce the consumption of salt. (1) With yet another call, to the governments of the planet, to adopt indispensable public health measures.
Excess salt – still ubiquitous – is the primary cause of serious and chronic diseases (NCDs, Non-Communicable Diseases) and premature mortality. And the global goal, to reduce salt intake by 30% by 2025, appears utopian. Indeed, a defeat.
WHO, salt consumption over double the limit
The recommendation WHO to limit salt consumption to 5 grams per day is unknown to a large part of the global population and its health institutions. In fact, it is estimated that the average consumption is 10,8 grams, more than double the limit.
Habit The consumption of very savory foods is also stimulated by the food industry, which still indulges in offering products with poor nutritional profiles, as confirmed by the recent analysis by WASHH. (2)
The damages linked to excess salt also occur in the long term, when dietary intervention is not enough to remedy disabling pathologies such as cardiovascular and renal diseases, stroke, diabetes, osteoporosis. (3)
The scientific evidence seem unknown to a large part of public health administrators. In fact, only 5% of WHO member states have mandatory and comprehensive sodium reduction policies. 73% lack a full range of implementing such policies. In the middle who floats.
The implementation of policies salt (and sodium) reduction could save around 7 million lives globally by 2030, reminds WHO. As well as mitigating the related health and social security costs: hospital admissions, treatments and medicines, absence from work.
Il Sustainable Development Goal No. 3 - Good Health and Well-being – should also be declined in the reduction of deaths from non-communicable diseases. (4)
Only 9 countries aligned
For the first time, the recommendation to take action is accompanied by a ranking that reports in detail the efforts made by the 177 Member States, listing and documenting the (possible) measures adopted.
According to the reportToday only nine countries – Brazil, Chile, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Malaysia, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Spain and Uruguay – have a comprehensive package of policies in place to reduce salt/sodium intake.
4 levels of commitment to the goal
The WHO ranking is divided into four levels. They range from action plans of the 'advertising progress' type to voluntary measures, up to the implementation of concrete measures, which provide for various mandatory tools to achieve an effective reduction in the consumption of salt in the population, from communication campaigns to Front-of-Pack Nutrition Labeling (FOPNL), such as the long-awaited NutriScore in Europe. (5)
No surprise for Italy which is placed halfway, together with the majority, among the 65 States where there are voluntary measures of little effectiveness for agro-food operators or 'encouragements' to the population to reduce the consumption of salt. The initiatives that stop the Bel Paese halfway are rather dated.
Salt and mandolin
The site websites of the Ministry of Health today is still tethered in Covid-19 matters. The related campaigns with an invitation to get vaccinated stop in December 2022, in a somewhat neglected area.
The references excessive salt consumption appears (after careful research) with reference to some voluntary agreements with the association of bakers and the food industry, first AIIPA today Unione Italiana Food.
Page of the institutional site on the subject has also been at a standstill for a year and the agreement between the Unione Italiana Food and the Ministry of Health would in any case have yielded an average quantity of salt, for the category of crackers, equal to 1,99 grams of salt per 100 grams of crackers.
A dozen di crackers therefore, half of the maximum daily salt threshold indicated by WHO is worth. Successful deal?
Virtuous one becomes
The recall of WHO to Member States could awaken the responsibility of public health administrators. It may therefore be useful to recall the four interventions 'best buy' related to salt/sodium which according to the World Health Organization can contribute to the prevention of non-communicable diseases:
- rephrase foods to contain less salt and set goals for the amount of sodium in foods and meals,
- provide salt/sodium limits in tenders for the provision of meals in hospitals, schools, workplaces and nursing homes,
- to adopt labeling on the front of the pack – front on pack nutritional labelling, FoPNL (NutriScore) – to help consumers select low sodium products,
- implement (or launch) communication campaigns on the subject.
(1) WHO global report on sodium intake reduction. World Health Organization. 9.3.23 https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789240069985
(2) Martha Strinati. Big food, business unsustainable trend of unbalanced food alerts investors. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 9.3.23
(3) Martha Strinati. Too much salt in the diet causes heart attack and cancer. Here's how to get safe. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 22.3.17
(4) Dario Dongo, Giulia Caddeo. Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs. The challenge of humanity. Equality. 3.9.19
(5) Martha Strinati. The EU public health, EUPHA, indicates NutriScore as the best option of FoPNL. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 20.3.23
Professional journalist since January 1995, he has worked for newspapers (Il Messaggero, Paese Sera, La Stampa) and periodicals (NumeroUno, Il Salvagente). She is the author of journalistic surveys on food, she has published the book "Reading labels to know what we eat".