WHO warns against the dangers of excessive salt consumption

News release

Environmental health officers in South Tarawa, Kiribati conduct an interview with a food preparer about knowledge, attitude and behavior towards salt reduction.

Every day, millions of people across the Western Pacific Region go about their lives unaware of the hidden danger lurking in their food—salt. The overconsumption of salt and sodium is linked to high blood pressure, which increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack or stroke. On World Heart Day (29 September), WHO urges everyone to adopt heart-healthy choices by consuming a diet low in salt.

The Silent Killer

“Among noncommunicable risk factors, high blood pressure is called the silent killer. It already kills 9.4 million each year globally and if we do nothing about it today, it will kill 1 billion people prematurely in this century,” said Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific.

Research shows that there is a direct relationship between sodium consumption and blood pressure, for example increased sodium consumption is associated with increased blood pressure. WHO recommends that adults consume less than 5g of salt daily or about 1 teaspoon, which is equivalent to 2g of sodium.

Unfortunately, most people unknowingly consume 9-12g of salt per day, which is twice the recommended limit. This puts millions at risk of cardiovascular disease. Reducing salt consumption can save lives by helping to keep blood pressure within the normal range and preventing early death from heart attack or stroke.

Where is the salt?

Hidden salt in processed foods is the main culprit. Tinned fish and meat, instant noodles, chips, bread and soup stock cubes are among the most commonly consumed processed foods. These are usually cheap, widely available and do not require refrigeration, but are high in sodium. Salt is also added during cooking or while eating as condiments such as table salt, fish sauce and soy sauce. In restaurants and fast food outlets, people have no control over the amount of salt added to their dishes. Given the increasing consumption of processed and fast foods, coupled with shifting tastes and diets, consumers need to be aware of the salt content of food to help them make informed choices and demand healthier low-salt options.

“The dizzying array of food choices currently available can be very confusing. But the reality is up to 75% of additional salt in the diet comes from processed foods,” noted Dr Susan Mercado, Director of Noncommunicable Diseases and Health through the Life-course at the WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific. “People need to be made aware of this hidden danger. The government and the food industry need to reduce the salt content of processed foods. Furthermore, people should have their blood pressure checked regularly, and governments must ensure that generic medicines for high blood pressure are widely available at little or no cost.”

How do we reduce salt consumption?

Effective salt reduction initiatives go beyond the health sector and public awareness campaigns. The engagement of other government ministries and the private sector, particularly the food industry, is essential, through measures such as food labeling regulations, reducing the salt content in commonly consumed processed food and the production of ‘low-salt’ food alternatives. At home, you can reduce salt consumption by choosing healthy snacks that are low in salt, sugar and saturated and trans fats. Try alternative flavoring during cooking (e.g. herbs, spices and vinegar), removing salt from the table and closely examining food labels.

Other heart-healthy choices you can adopt are (1) regular exercise, (2) avoiding smoking or exposure to second-hand smoke; and (3) avoiding the harmful use of alcohol.

For more information, please contact:
Mr Ruel E. Serrano
Assistant, Public Information Office
WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific
Telephone: +632 528 9993
Email: serranor@wpro.who.int