More than fifty government officials, manufacturers, distributors, restaurants owners, civil society representatives and stakeholders from other private and public sectors, gathered in Jamaica this week for a two-day meeting to tackle the scourge of salt consumption in the Region.
Hypertension, strokes, heart disease and diabetes are among the five leading causes of death in the Caribbean. These diseases represent not only a major health crisis, but also a serious economic challenge. The increased risk of cardiovascular diseases and stroke has been associated with excessive salt intake and hypertension.
“The Caribbean is well known for its high dietary salt consumption from processed foods and as an added ingredient during cooking and at the table. Studies have shown that most people consume too much salt, around twice the recommended maximum level of intake. This high consumption increases the risk for high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease,” stated Dr. C. James Hospedales, CARPHA Executive Director in his address at the opening of the meeting.
The Regional Meeting on the Reduction of Salt Consumption for the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases in the Caribbean took place at the University of the West Indies Regional Headquarters from 4th to 5th June, 2019. The meeting sought to formulate a regional framework to reduce salt/sodium in the food environment for the prevention and control of NCDs in the Caribbean. Dr. Bernadette Theodore-Gandi, PAHO/WHO Representative to Jamaica, Bermuda and the Cayman Islands informed the meeting that since 2009, PAHO has been spearheading efforts to reduce dietary salt in the Americas, and led the establishment of the Salt-Smart consortium, as an example of using the “whole of society” approach to tackle NCDs. She said “It has been well established and is very worrying that people are consuming far more sodium than is good for health,” stating that “NCDs are a major public health problem globally, responsible for 71% of deaths annually (41 million lives). However, the figures for the Caribbean are even higher, at 78% of deaths. Reducing sodium and salt intake will reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and coronary heart disease. In fact, this is one of the most costeffective strategies, listed by WHO as one of the Best Buys for NCDS.”
Salt has many uses such as a preservative in foods, as a flavour enhancer and contributor to the texture of foods. Our bodies also require sodium to maintain proper balance of water and minerals, contract and relax muscles, and other vital functions. It is recommended that we use just under one teaspoon per day, for this purpose.
In his feature address, Dr the Honourable Christopher Tufton, Jamaica’s Minister of Health and Wellness stated, “Data from the Region tells us that across gender groups, we are exceeding the daily intake level of salt recommended by WHO.” He added “High blood pressure in our people is a Caribbean-wide problem; and it is one that threatens to become even more of a challenge, unless we address the risk factors, including our high salt intake. Given the public health challenge that this level of salt intake presents, I am especially pleased to join you this morning for this meeting, which brings together stakeholders from the public and private sectors to discuss and agree on strategies to effectively reduce our salt intake.” Minister Tufton said the Ministry, in partnership with the Caribbean Institute for Health Research is to conduct a study on the Salt Consumption Practices of Jamaicans. The study proposes to provide contextual information for the implementation of a National Salt Reduction Programme to reduce blood pressure and associated cardiovascular disease.
The meeting is expected to propose mechanisms for manufacturers and other stakeholders to support the call for reduced salt content in processed and other foods served to the public. Other expected results of the meeting are: manufacturers and other key stakeholders will have increased knowledge about the health effects of high levels of salt consumption, as well as knowledge about different experiences at the national, regional and international levels.
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