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Italy targets salt reduction to counter high intakes

By Stephen Daniells , 23-Mar-2010

A salt strategy to involve collaboration with food manufacturers is underway in Italy, as evidence mounts that men are consuming levels above current recommendations.

Intakes of salt averaged 12 grams per day, according to a study of almost 1,000 men from southern Italy. This is well above the daily intakes of 5 grams per day recommended by the WHO/FAO to control blood pressure levels and reduce hypertension prevalence and related health risks in populations.

Researchers led by Professor Pasquale Strazzullo, chairman of the Department of Clinical Medicine at the Federico II University of Naples Medical School report their findings in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The study is the the “first one of its kind and dimensions ever carried out”, said Prof Strazzullo, and was funded by the Italian Ministry of Health.

According to the new findings, sodium intakes, estimated from sodium levels in urine samples, showed that overweight/obese participants had higher sodium intakes compared with normal-weight people. Overweight people also displayed signs of altered renal sodium handling, added the researchers.

Gathering momentum

In an email correspondence with FoodNavigator, Professor Strazzullo said that salt intakes in Italy are not well studied and a program called the MINISAL-GIRCSI Program was established to assess the population’s age-, sex- and region-specific current average salt intake.

Professor Strazzullo coordinates the NGO Interdisciplinary Working Group for reduction of Salt Intake in Italy (GIRCSI) on behalf of eight Italian scientific societies committed to the salt problem.

Negotiations have been going on for almost two years between the Italian ministry of health supported by GIRCSI and other experts with the associations of bakers and an agreement was reached by July 2009 for a gradual 15 per cent reduction in the salt content of bread over two years.

“Implementation of this agreement is presently under evaluation,” said Prof Strazzullo.

“Negotiations with the food industry are in program for further steps in food products reformulation,” he added.

There is also action being taken on the scientific side, said Prof Strazzullo, with educational campaigns being carried out in conjunction with WHO, WASH (World Action on Salt and Health), The World Hypertension League and other NGOs.

Short-term success and the possibility of legislation

“I think we can say that we have been successful in raising a great deal of interest and in bringing this very important issue to the attention of the Italian government, of the scientific world and also of the food industry in Italy, much in the way as it is occurring all over Europe,” said Prof Strazzullo.

“Furthermore, all the Italian initiatives that I mentioned are being made known to the other European countries and various attempts are being made to integrate and coordinate the national efforts.

“I also think that soon we will have to make the point of whether some kind of legislation is necessary in order to achieve more substantial results in the mid-long term (as for smoking),” he added.

Source: European Journal of Clinical Nutrition
Published online ahead of print, doi:10.1038/ejcn.2010.22
“Dietary sodium intake in a sample of adult male population in southern Italy: results of the Olivetti Heart Study”
Authors: A. Venezia, G Barba, O Russo, C Capasso, V De Luca, E Farinaro, FP Cappuccio, F Galletti, G Rossi, P Strazzullo

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