Nearly three-quarters of World Health Organization (WHO) member states lack comprehensive and mandatory sodium reduction policies, the United Nations agency says in a new report.
The WHO warned that countries are behind in a combined push to reduce global sodium intake by 30 percent by 2025.
While most countries have some kind of policy in place, only nine out of 194 member states, or 5 percent, have comprehensive policy packages with at least two mandatory policies to address salt intake, according to the report. These include Brazil, Chile, Czech Republic, Lithuania, Malaysia, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Spain and Uruguay.
Overall, about 73 percent of WHO member states lack comprehensive and mandatory sodium reduction policies, the report says.
The WHO scored each country based on four recommendations: having a national policy commitment to reduce salt intake; voluntary measures implemented to reduce sodium in the food supply or encourage consumers to make healthier food choices; mandatory measures implemented to reduce sodium and use a nutrient profile model to effectively implement measures; and a mandatory declaration of sodium on all pre-packaged food.
About 22 percent of countries scored a 3 out of 4 on these recommended policies, including the U.S.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued guidance on sodium reduction with the target of reducing daily intake from the average 3,400 mg down to 2,300 mg per day for people ages 14 and older.
While sodium is a necessary nutrient for human bodies to function properly, too much salt increases risks for health complications like heart disease and stroke.
“This important 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,” Tom Frieden, president and CEO of the nonprofit Resolve to Save Lives and a former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during the Obama administration, said in a press release.
“There are proven measures that governments can implement and important innovations, such as low sodium salts. The world needs action, and now, or many more people will experience disabling or deadly—but preventable—heart attacks and strokes,” he added.
The WHO recommends adopting mandatory policies that address how food is formulated, enforce front-of-package labeling and limit sodium in foods and meals, especially those served in hospitals, schools, workplaces and nursing homes.