Why Kenya considers reduced salt in processed food

Kenya has very low salt intake globally but WHO says a law for processed foods is still necessary

In Summary

•Kenyans generally take the recommended less than five grams of salt per day (one teaspoon), Studies show.

• However, enacting such a reduced-salt law is difficult as the country has been unable to enact a law to eliminate killer trans fats from cooking fats sold in Kenya.

Salt (sodium chloride)
SALT: Salt (sodium chloride)

The government might propose new policies to limit the amount of salt in packaged foods such as chips and roasted peanuts.

This proposal is being pushed by the World Health Organization, which complains most people in the world are consuming too much salt.

The WHO says sodium, an essential nutrient that mainly comes from salt, increases the risk of heart disease, stroke and premature death when taken in excess. Increase high blood pressure. 

Kenya has one of the world’s lowest salt consumption, but the WHO said it is still necessary to have laws compelling manufacturers and hoteliers to limit salt in packaged and fast foods.

“Unhealthy diets are a leading cause of death and disease globally, and excessive sodium intake is one of the main culprits,” WHO boss Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement.

“Most countries are yet to adopt any mandatory sodium reduction policies, leaving their people at risk of heart attack, stroke and other health problems," he said.

He spoke ahead of Thursday’s launch of the WHO’s 'Global Report on Sodium Intake Reduction', which shows the world is off-track to achieve its global target of reducing sodium intake by 30 per cent by 2025.

The report shows only nine countries (Brazil, Chile, Czech Republic, Lithuania, Malaysia, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Spain and Uruguay) are protected by mandatory salt reduction policies. At least 73 per cent of WHO member states, including Kenya, lack such policies.

Kenyans generally take the recommended less than five grams of salt per day (one teaspoon), various studies show.

The WHO report said the global average salt intake is about 10.8 grams per day, which is more than two teaspoonfuls.

“Eating too much salt makes it the top risk factor for diet and nutrition-related deaths,” the report added.

More evidence is emerging documenting links between high sodium intake and increased risk of other health conditions such as gastric cancer, obesity, osteoporosis and kidney disease.

The WHO said that implementing salt reduction policies could save about seven million lives globally by 2030.

However, enacting such a policy is difficult seeing the country has been unable to enact a law to eliminate the killer trans fats from cooking fats sold in Kenya.

According to the 2015 STEPS survey  of noncommunicable diseases, nine out of every 10 Kenyans already know the dangers of consuming too much salt.

The 'Kenya STEPs survey', conducted by the MoH in 2015, is the first nationally representative survey to collect comprehensive information on risk factors for non-communicable diseases and injuries.

About 23 per cent of Kenyans said they always added salt to food before eating, regardless of whether the food had salt.

In general, Kenya’s high reported dietary salt intake prevalence was 18.3 per cent, mostly among men.

The survey noted that it is difficult to legislate against adding salt to food at the table and such an approach should target processed food.

“Salt intake control strategies generally are two-pronged: reduction of salt in processed foods through legislation to govern the food industry as well as enforcement of existing laws," the survey said.

"Secondly, creating consumer awareness and public education, especially to combat discretionary excessive salt intake,” the Stepwise survey noted.

WHO said, government policies should set targets for the amount of salt in foods in public institutions such as hospitals, schools and workplaces.

Front-of-package labelling could also help consumers select products lower in sodium.

The other approach is mass media campaigns to reduce salt consumption.

While sodium is necessary, salt is an acquired taste.

Health-conscious people increasingly are turning to reduced salt, a sodium alternative with less salt. Those who want to go even further, choose a no-salt alternative, potassium chloride. It's very similar to salt, but has a somewhat stronger, sharp taste. Not everyone likes it, some get used to it and like it.

“This important Stepwise report demonstrates that countries must work urgently to implement ambitious, mandatory, government-led sodium reduction policies to meet the global target of reducing salt consumption by 2025,”Dr Tom Frieden said.

He is head of Resolve to Save Lives, a non-profit body working with countries to prevent 100 million deaths from heart disease over 30 years.

(Edited by V. Graham)

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