JIS News

The Heart Foundation of Jamaica is cautioning consumers against excessive use of salt, and to be vigilant when purchasing food items as the salt level may not be properly represented in the labeling.

Representatives of the Foundation made the call Wednesday January 26 at the press launch of Heart Month, at the Altamont Court Hotel, New Kingston, under the theme, ‘The Truth About Salt’.

They said that processed foods account for a large majority of salt in dietary intake, especially in more developed countries. A survey of ready to eat cereal in particular (found that) raisin bran has 350 milligrams of sodium, which converts to 0.9 grams of salt.

“If our total daily intake should be five grams, and you are already accounting for one fifth of it in what is probably part of your breakfast, you can see that by the end of the day, with the higher salt containing foods, including meats, you’re bound to exceed (intake),” said board member of the Foundation and Director of the Epidemiology Research Unit at the Tropical Medicine Research Institute of the University of the West Indies (UWI), Professor Rainford Wilks says.

In his presentation entitled ‘Salt and the cardiovascular disease epidemic: the imperative to reduce consumption’,Professor Wilks noted that research shows that cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) kill 17 million persons worldwide annually, compared to the three million deaths from HIV/AIDS. Some 80 per cent of these deaths occur in low and middle income countries, such as Jamaica.

He points to blood pressure as a major risk factor for the CVD epidemic. However, he notes that elevated blood pressure, and not necessarily hypertension, is responsible for 7.6 million premature deaths; 92 million disability-adjusted life years (DALYs); 54 per cent of all strokes; and 47 per cent of ischemic heart disease (such as angina and heart attacks).

Half of these ailments and diseases were due to hypertension, while the other half were caused by modest elevation in blood pressure.

“The lower your blood pressure the better…breaking us into a group of those with or without hypertension is actually a disservice, because we need to recognise that people with blood pressure as low as 120 do have this excess risk,” he remarks.

Professor Wilks says that while high daily salt intake is defined as greater than five grams, this amount of salt is not needed, as populations were surviving on less than half a gram of salt per day, and doing reasonably well.

“Five grams is extremely excessive…excess salt in the diet has been unequivocally shown to increase blood pressure, to increase the size of the left size of the heart, independent of blood pressure, and contribute to kidney damage, also independent of blood pressure levels. It is also associated with gastric cancer, obesity, osteoporosis and the worsening of asthma,” he said.

Professor Wilks notes that estimating salt intake at the population level is difficult.

“The gold standard is by collecting a 24-hour sample of urine, and looking at sodium in it…it isn’t easy, it’s inconvenient to the persons who participate,” he says.

However, he says a study from the 1980s, which looked at African-Americans, showed that Jamaicans, on the average, consumed over eight grams a day; Barbados just under seven grams; and African Americans, in one Chicago town, almost 20 grams.

“Wide-scale reduction of salt intake, using a combination of mass media awareness campaigns and regulation of salt content in food products, could result in significant decreases in the rates of salt-related diseases at a cost of US$0.04 – US$0.32 per person per year, (which is) cheaper than aspirin,” he states.

He says that data from the most recent Jamaica Health and Lifestyle Survey show that there is a 25.5 per cent prevalence rate of hypertension in the country; 7.9 per cent diabetes; 25.3 per cent obesity, and that some 6 per cent of persons added salt in the preparation of food.    

Professor Wilks points to another study, which estimates that there are some 12,000 persons with heart attacks and 25,000 with stroke, at any one time in Jamaica.

He argues that according to a World Health Organisation (WHO) 2003 study, there is good evidence that reduction in salt intake will have significant impact on blood pressure.

 “It has been shown that if you were to consume a diet rich in fruits and vegetable and low fat, you could reduce your blood pressure, without any other intervention, by up to 14 millimetres of mercury,” he says.

Reducing salt intake to less than six grams per day, could reduce blood pressure by two to eight millimeters of mercury.

  “They look like small numbers but, if we can drop the blood pressure mean of the population by four millimeters of mercury, we can reduce the prevalence of hypertension in the population by 10 per cent,” he asserted.

Professor Wilks says by dropping everyone’s blood pressure there would be benefits, not only to those who are hypertensive but, to the population at large. He said in America it has been shown that, dropping population blood pressure levels could be worth billions of dollars.

He points out that to ameliorate the CVD epidemic, reduction in salt intake is imperative, and that this effort will only succeed if a broad consensus can be achieved.

The Foundation has produced two television advertisements, highlighting the dangers of high salt intake and how persons can control their salt consumption.

The Foundation’s activities for Heart month (January 26 to February 28), include an outside broadcast on Hitz 92FM at 6 a.m., and a mobile outreach at the Seaforth Health Centre in St. Thomas on February 1; a mobile clinic at the Trinityville Health Centre, St. Thomas, on February 2; a mobile outreach on February 3, at the Edna Manley Health Centre on Grants Pen Road; a medical symposium at the Knutsford Court Hotel, New Kingston, on February 8; a plaza promotion screening at 10 a.m. at Boulevard supercentre, Spanish Town Shopping Centre, Portmore Mall and Liguanea.

The mobile team will travel to the Frankfield Health Centre in Clarendon on February 21, and the Yallahs Health Centre n St. Thomas on February 22, as well as the Harbour View Health Centre in St. Catherine on February 24. There will be a customer appreciation day at the Foundation’s Beechwood Avenue headquarters, Kingston, starting at 8.30 am on February 25.

The Heart Foundation is a non-profit organization supported by voluntary contributions. It is also a member of the World Health Federation based in Geneva, Switzerland, and the Inter-American Heart Foundation (IAHF). It is the Caribbean office for the IAHF.

 The Foundation seeks to reduce the incidence of death from heart disease in Jamaica by prevention, through education, early detection through screening programmes and rehabilitation through education about healthy lifestyles.


By: Alphea Saunders