Heart Disease Risk Factors – Cutting, Taxing Salt to Save Half a Million Lives Each Year.

by Leigh on May 17, 2012

salt reduction heart disease deaths

Cutting salt by 10% and taxing high salt-content foods at 40% could cut 3% of CVD deaths annually.

Taxing and reducing salt could reduce deaths from heart disease by 3% according to a new study which recommends reducing the salt content of processed foods by 10% and taxing those deemed to be high in salt. The 3% figure may not seem enormous but considering that cardiovascular disease is a major killer in many countries this is thought to be around 500,000 fewer deaths from CVD across the globe, along with a reduction in non-fatal heart attacks and strokes.

Half a Million Deaths Avoided through Salt Reduction

The figures have been calculated by Dr Thomas Gaziano of the Harvard School of Medicine in Boston and were presented at the World Congress of Cardiology 2012 last month. Dr Gaziano modeled nineteen countries in the developing world and estimated a reduction of 250,000 deaths from CVD if his measures were adopted.

Hypertension is responsible for 12.8% of deaths every year across the globe, and costs around $450billion in the US each year alone in terms of healthcare spending (some 10% of total healthcare expenditure in the US). The UK approach to reducing sodium consumption was used by Gaziano and colleagues to model the impact of such measures in nineteen countries that made up approximately half of the world’s population.

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A 40% Tax on Salty Foods?

Limitations of the strategy include the need for manufacturers to voluntarily adhere to the reductions in salt content by 10%, with a 40% tax on salty foods proposed in the scheme. The savings in healthcare costs would be dramatic, as well as saving lives each year, and reducing the incidence of strokes by some 5% according to Gaziano’s calculations. Working with the food processing industry was cited as being the most effective of the strategies but the salt-tax would also be cost-effective.

Reducing CVD Deaths

In addition to reducing cardiovascular deaths through salt taxation and reduction the researchers proposed increased screening and treatment for those at high risk of hypertension (high blood pressure). In low and middle-income countries, Gaziano estimated a 3% drop in CVD deaths if screening and treatment for hypertensives improved.

Daily Sodium Intake Guidelines

A 10% reduction in salt content in foods may seem ambitious to some but Gaziano noted that even that would leave some countries in a position where sodium content of the average diet was still far above the recommendations of many major health organisations. Current guidelines on sodium consumption cite 2300mg for the general population and a reduced figure of 1500mg for those deemed high-risk, such as diabetics, those with chronic kidney disease, and African Americans with hypertension. These groups alone account for more than half of those in the US.

UN Targets for Heart Health

Other initiatives proposed to cut the rate of heart disease and CVD deaths worldwide include efforts to reduce smoking, improve treatment interventions, offer better dietary advice, and reduce intake of trans fats and saturated fats; reducing soda consumption to prevent heart disease may also feature on future lists of such initiatives following recent research showing a soda a day increase heart disease risk by 20%. Gaziano calculated that a wide range of heart health interventions would be needed to meet the 25% reduction in premature deaths from cardiovascular disease, globally, set out as a target at the 2011 UN Summit on Noncommunicable Diseases. This study shows that by cutting and taxing salt intake CVD deaths could be reduced by 3%, setting policy makers on the way to a naturally heart-healthy population.

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