Salt intake is too high in India, the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) has warned. Is this leading to a crisis of high blood pressure?
A PHFI study has found consumption of the foodstuff in three Indian states exceeds the level recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), which says you should eat less than five grams daily. Despite this, the WHO claims, most people worldwide consume twice the recommended amount of salt on average and if salt intake were to be reduced, around 2.5 million deaths could be averted worldwide.
The PHFI surveyed the salt intake of 1,395 adults from Andhra Pradesh, Delhi, and Haryana. The results are a cause for concern. Delhiites and Haryanvis consume around 9.5 grams of salt daily. Andhraites, meanwhile, consume 10.4 grams – more than twice what the WHO advises.
“If salt intake were to be reduced, around 2.5 million deaths could be averted worldwide”
Salt, like most foodstuffs, can be enjoyed in moderation. However, too much of it can prove injurious to health and even fatal in the long term.
The reason for this is the link between eating too much salt and high blood pressure (hypertension) – one of India’s biggest and quietest killers, owing to its links with deaths from a number of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs).
High blood pressure caused 17.5 percent of all deaths in India in 2016. This included 53.8 percent of deaths due to heart disease; 54.3 percent of deaths due to chronic kidney disease; and 55.7 percent of deaths due to stroke.
“High blood pressure…[is] one of India’s biggest and quietest killers”
Alarmingly, hypertension has reached epidemic proportions among India’s population. One eighth of Indians suffer high blood pressure. The condition affects 10.4 percent of men and 6.7 percent of women.
The findings of the PHFI’s study should give the Centre impetus for a strategy to control the salt intake of Indians. This ought to include raising awareness of the dangers of eating too much of it and the health benefits of reducing consumption, as well as encouraging salt reduction by the food industry.
Stakeholders interviewed as part of the study – ranging from civil society to government departments – are broadly “in alignment” with such a programme. However, challenges loom in the face of a salt reduction programme. These include “social and cultural beliefs, a large unorganized food retail sector, and the lack of proper implementation of even existing food policies.”
There is some hope, however. The National Multisectoral Action Plan on NCDs identifies salt reduction as a necessary step in controlling the spread of NCDs in India. This could provide means to facilitate a program to reduce the country’s intake of salt – in the process entailing better quality of life and lowered risk for a plethora of NCDs.