Initiative to reduce salt in food kicks off in Montenegro

WHO

The WHO Country Office, Montenegro and the Ministry of Health, the Institute for Public Health and the national food council of Montenegro have launched a joint initiative to combat the prevalence of chronic noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) caused by an overconsumption of salt in the diet. The initiative, introduced on 17 December 2012, was developed in response to evidence of the link between excessive salt intake and life-threatening NCDs such as cardiovascular diseases.

The initiative focuses on reducing the daily salt intake of Montenegrins, who have a gastronomic culture that is traditionally high in salt. Implementation measures are being developed, but will include:

  • determining the population’s average daily salt intake per capita;
  • analysing the salt concentrations in food staples;
  • preparing national guidelines for specific population categories;
  • designing a national programme to reduce salt intake, in line with WHO and European Union (EU) recommendations;
  • preparing legislation to provide conditions for the implementation of these recommendations; and
  • working with relevant international programmes, national and international stakeholders, and the general public.

Excessive salt consumption in the EU

Surveys conducted in EU countries indicate that the average citizen consumes 8–12 g salt per day, well above the WHO recommendation of a maximum of 5 g per day. The 2008 update of the WHO study of the global burden of disease showed that cardiovascular diseases were the leading cause of death throughout Europe, accounting for 42% of deaths. They were responsible for 55% of deaths in Montenegro in 2009.

Excessive salt intake is considered one of the leading causes of cardiovascular disease, and contributes to the incidence and exacerbation of several other NCDs through elevated blood pressure. Nevertheless, salt intake remains high due to both discretionary and non-discretionary intake. The former comprises the salt that people add to food while preparing or eating it, and accounts for about a fifth of daily consumption on average. Non-discretionary intake makes up the remainder and comes from products that are made with or naturally contain salt. This means that consumers need to be aware of the nutritional make-up of food and beverage products.

World Health Day and WHO/Europe’s focus on reducing dietary salt

Hypertension is the theme for World Health Day 2013; WHO/Europe is focusing on the measures to prevent high blood pressure: reducing salt intake, avoiding the harmful use of alcohol and tobacco, following a balanced diet, engaging in regular physical activity and maintaining a healthy body weight.

Actions taken to reduce hypertension will help to reduce other NCDs, as global research indicates that reducing salt consumption from 10 g per day to the recommended 5 g per day, for example, would result in a 24% decrease in stroke and an 18% decrease in coronary artery disease.

WHO/Europe included salt reduction as one of the five priority interventions in the new Action Plan for the Implementation of the European Strategy on the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases (2012–2016).