Reducing salt intake in the population


European Salt Action Network (ESAN) was established under the auspices of WHO and with the support of the United Kingdom Food Standards Agency (FSA) and promotes the harmonization of salt intake reduction programmes in EU countries.  

The main aims and objectives of ESAN are to:

  • establish, within the WHO European Region, a network of countries committed to reducing salt intake and building international action on salt reduction;
  • provide opportunities for information exchange on the implementation of salt-reduction strategies, as well as on related activities and achievements;
  • provide opportunities for information exchange on technological progress and developmental processes related to salt reduction; and
  • develop guidance for Member States wishing to develop salt-reduction strategies and provide technical expertise on the different aspects of a salt-reduction strategy, such as setting salt targets, monitoring levels of salt intake and salt in products, and communicating with the public

Switzerland leads this network, which 23 countries have joined: Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Finland, France, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, the Russian Federation, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. WHO/Europe and the European Commission participate as observers. Meetings of the Network are also attended by external experts, EC representatives and invited guest speakers. The only condition for a country to join is that the country is working on salt reduction or planning to do so, and that its representatives work for government or have been nominated by government. A first meeting of the network was held in March 2008 to share experiences to date and further develop the mechanisms by which ESAN can support progress on salt reduction across the Region. Further meetings were held in February and November 2009 and October 2011.

High salt consumption is a major factor contributing to increased blood pressure, strongly associated with cardiovascular diseases and linked to other NCDs such as strokes, left ventricular hypertrophy and renal disease. In Europe, approximately 70-75% of all salt consumed is hidden in processed foods and snacks or food products (such as bread and cheese) and is not under the control of the consumer. The WHO Regional Office for Europe report “Mapping salt reduction initiatives in the WHO European Region”, gives an overview of current initiatives in European countries. Several countries have already reaped significant results from measures including food and product labelling, consumer education, updating of national dietary guidelines and negotiating with food manufacturers to reduce the salt content in processed foods.