The Salt Reduction Controversy & the UN Summit on Non-Communicable Diseases

The UN summit on non-communicable diseases taking place 17 days from now in New York may not be on every American’s radar, but it should be. The ambitious meeting aims to tackle the alarming rise of chronic diseases affecting the world’s population, particularly in developing nations – cancer, respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. Everyone knows someone suffering from one of these diseases. Many argue that obesity should be included in this list, and it should be. Perhaps it deserves its own special high-level meeting. Chronic kidney disease should be listed, too, but if the world’s nations can manage to reduce the number of people developing high blood pressure and diabetes, they will prevent many cases of CKD.

This summit will be a start, but there is still a lot of work to be done. The proclamation outlining the details for preventing and controlling these diseases is still in draft form. And there have been no goals set for reducing the number of preventable deaths. Nations are at odds on the important issues of reducing tobacco and salt consumption. Norway’s proposal to set a salt reduction target of 5 grams per person per day worldwide by the year 2025 has been removed from the Outcome Document. This is disheartening. To get some perspective, the average American diet contains 12 to 14 grams of salt per day. Reducing salt to about a teaspoon a day would mean fewer strokes, fewer heart attacks, fewer deaths, fewer cases of hypertension, and by implication, fewer instances of chronic kidney disease. A recent study on salt published in the British Medical Journal showed that reducing salt intake by 3 grams per day in the U.S. “…would result in up to 120,000 fewer cases of coronary heart disease, up to 66,000 strokes and up to 99,000 heart attacks annually.” The NCD Alliance estimates that “…reducing global salt consumption by just 15% through mass-media campaigns and reformulation of processed foods and salt substitution could prevent an estimated 8.5 million deaths in just 10 years.”

The EU, Australia, Japan, the United States, and Canada currently oppose Norway’s salt target. The global group World Action on Salt and Health (WASH) recently issued a press release urging those nations to reconsider their position on salt reduction. News stories about the reasons behind the attempts to block reductions in salt, as well as sugar and fat have appeared in the Canadian press, but the media in the U.S. has yet to pick up on the story. It could be because Hurricane Irene and the unstable economy have dominated our recent news. However, one could argue that becoming a healthier nation in a healthier world would help our economy by saving money in the long run.

As this story evolves, we’ll keep you updated. Let’s hope the EU, Australia, Japan, the United States, and Canada reverse their position on salt. Stay tuned!


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