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Reduce salt in children’s foods, stop advertising salty products to children – PAHO/WHO

Published:Wednesday | March 25, 2015 | 12:00 AM

The Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) is calling on the food-processing industry to reduce salt in their products - especially products for kids - and to stop advertising high-salt products to children.

Making the call during World Salt Awareness Week, March 16-22, PAHO/WHO also urged parents and children to "escape sneaky salt" by eating more meals prepared with fresh ingredients at home.

"Most of us are not even aware how much salt we're eating," said Dr Branka Legetic, PAHO/WHO adviser on non-communicable diseases.

"That's because most of the salt we consume is hidden in processed foods. One part of the solution is for the food-processing industry to reduce salt in its products. Another part of the solution is to use less salt in cooking and to make sure kids eat more fresh foods prepared at home."

Children are especially vulnerable to advertising and marketing and at the same time are developing eating habits that will have a strong impact on their dietary patterns as adults. Even during childhood, high consumption of salt has an effect on blood pressure and can predispose children to such diseases as hypertension, osteoporosis, asthma and other respiratory diseases, obesity and stomach cancer.


Opportunity for parents


But the fact that children and adolescents are at a formative stage also presents an opportunity.

"Saltiness is an acquired preference, so it's possible - and from a health standpoint critical - for parents to take steps to keep children from developing a taste for salt early on," said Legetic. "If parents involve their kids in preparing meals at home, that will help even more to establish good dietary habits for life."

Adults who consume more than five grams of salt daily (equivalent to two grams of sodium) are at increased risk of high blood pressure, the leading risk factor for cardiovascular disease as well as kidney failure.

WHO guidelines recommend adjusting these limits downward for children, who generally consume fewer daily calories than adults. Average daily salt intake in the Western Hemisphere is notably higher than five grams.

Since 2009, PAHO/WHO has been spearheading regional efforts to reduce dietary salt in the Americas through joint action among governments, health experts, industry representatives and nongovernmental groups.

In 2013, the PAHO/WHO-led Salt Smart Consortium developed an action plan that calls on food processors to voluntarily reduce salt levels in their products, proposing specific targets for reduced salt in food groups ranging from breads, cookies and cakes to processed meats, mayonnaise and soups. The plan also calls for public-awareness campaigns that help consumers understand food labels and why it's important to consume less salt.