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High salt intakes in Switzerland may lead to federal action

By Stephen Daniells , 06-Feb-2009

A salt strategy to involve collaboration with food manufacturers is underway in Switzerland, as evidence mounts the Swiss population is consuming levels above current recommendations.

Average daily intakes of salt are 10.6 grams for men and 8.1 grams for women, according to a study of over 12,000 people in Geneva. Both of these are over 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 from the Division of Clinical Epidemiology at Geneva University Hospitals cite breads, cheeses, meat and meat products, soups, and ready meals as the main food sources of the salt.

“Salt intakes from ‘all’ sources for Geneva adults are about 3 to 5 grams above current recommendations,” wrote lead author Sigrid Beer-Borst.

“It appears that the best strategy would be to reduce the salt content in frequently consumed processed and prepared foods in cooperation with the food industry.”

Federal action

Dr Michael Beer, Head of the Swiss Federal Department of Home Affairs (FDHA) and the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH), told FoodNavigator.com that study was partly funded by the FOPH.

“Besides the recently published study FOPH has commissioned various other scientific studies [dating back to 2004],” said Dr Beer.

“The reported dietary salt intake was above current recommendations and action is needed,” he said.

And action is on the way, said Dr Beer. “Last December the Federal Office of Public Health opened a public consultation on a ‘salt strategy’,” he said.

The strategy, similar to the initiatives undertaken in the UK, includes raising public awareness, reducing the salt content in foods in collaboration with the food industry and the communal catering sector, and harmonising targets and actions in Switzerland with international development.

Study details

The Geneva general adult population was continuously monitored for 12 years, and 6,647 women and 6,688 men were randomly sampled by the researchers. The men and women completed food frequency questionnaires to assess dietary salt intake

Salt intakes (grams per day) were found to range from 9.9 to 11.2 grams per day for men and 7.0 to 8.9 grams per day for women. The researchers add that these measures were stable over 12 years.

“Salt intakes from all sources for the Geneva, and perhaps the Swiss adult population are above current recommendations,” said the researchers. “The quantitative and qualitative data provided in this paper could be used to develop and implement strategies for salt-intake reduction in Switzerland.”

Britain leads the way in salt reduction

Numerous scientists are convinced that high salt intake is responsible for increasing blood pressure (hypertension), a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD).

Salt is of course a vital nutrient and is necessary for the body to function, but campaigners for salt reduction, like the Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) consider the average daily salt consumption in the western world, between 10 and 12g, far too high.

The pressure has been mounting on food manufacturers to reduce the salt content of their foods and the UK's food standards agency (FSA) recommendation of six grams of salt per day for the general population is understood to be more a realistic target than the ideal healthy limit recommended by WHO/FAO.

The Swiss researchers also note that other countries are taking action on salt intakes. France’s “moderate population-wide” initiative calls for daily intakes to be cut to between six and eight grams. Nutrition societies in German, Austrian and Swiss also state that six grams of salt per day is ‘sufficient’.

Source: European Journal of Clinical Nutrition2009, Volume 63, Pages 155-164“Twelve-year trends and correlates of dietary salt intakes for the general adult population of Geneva, Switzerland”Authors: S. Beer-Borst, M.C. Costanza, A. Pechere-Bertschi, A. Morabia

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