New country support package launched to accelerate salt reduction in the WHO European Region
This week, WHO/Europe published a new package to support countries in the European Region to reduce salt consumption. The package outlines some of the most advanced guidance to date on salt reduction policies and surveillance.
The package is a rallying call for policy-makers to take action to reduce the alarmingly high levels of salt consumed in the Region. High salt consumption is a leading cause of raised blood pressure, which in turn is a major risk factor for cardiovascular diseases, the Region’s leading cause of death.
“Reducing salt intake, even by a small amount, has the potential to save many, many lives in all countries of the WHO European Region,” says Dr João Breda, Programme Manager for Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity at WHO/Europe.
“At the moment, salt intake ranges from about 9 g to 19 g of salt per day in the Region, far above the WHO target of less than 5 g of salt per day – and it’s putting population health at huge risk.”
A comprehensive step-by-step guide
The package provides detailed guidance on developing and implementing a successful salt reduction programme, including tools for ongoing monitoring and evaluation. It is comprised of 3 main sections: programme management, technical support, and policy interventions to support countries at each stage of programme development.
Welcoming the new package, Dr Breda explains its practical use: “This is different to previous publications on salt – it is overwhelmingly concentrated on guiding national authorities in real processes to achieve the WHO target of a 30% salt reduction by 2025.”
The first section on programme management provides guidance on developing a strong leadership team and accountability mechanisms, which are key to successful policy implementation. Given that reducing population salt intake is a WHO “best buy” – every US$ 1 spent on salt reduction efforts can save an estimated US$ 19 due to reduced disability and premature mortality – both establishing and scaling up existing salt reduction initiatives should be a high priority for countries.
The second section of the package offers technical support for orchestrating each initiative and providing data for policy interventions. It includes guidance on how to measure and monitor population salt intake, as well as levels of salt in the food supply.
Critically, the technical support section covers how to identify the main sources of salt in the diet and set targets to reduce the amount of salt in the food supply. This is a vital component of salt reduction strategies in countries where the majority of salt consumed is already in the packaged, processed foods bought in supermarkets.
The third section highlights the policy interventions required to reduce salt intake in the whole population. These include policies to improve public awareness of the dangers of eating too much salt; to create healthy food environments by working with food manufacturers to reformulate foods and meals to contain less salt; to improve the healthiness of foods served in public institutions; to make the healthy choice the easier choice with clear labelling on food packets; and to set restrictions on the marketing of unhealthy foods to children and adolescents.
Inspiring countries to take the initiative
“We hope this package will energize countries to reinforce and further pursue salt reduction as a vital strategy to improve public health,” Dr Breda adds. “It will provide support to stakeholders to fine-tune action on salt, from industry collaboration to behavioural change initiatives.”
The resources provided in the package are both timely and comprehensive, and can be implemented across the European Region. As the health risks of high salt consumption are significant and wide-ranging, the package is a welcome opportunity to empower countries to make salt reduction a public health priority.
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