IIT-Madras wants food packets to reveal salt content to combat NCD

If the current salt consumption is reduced by 30 percent, there will be a reduction of at least 25 percent prevalence in hypertension.


Published Jul 01, 2024 | 9:00 AM Updated Jul 01, 2024 | 9:00 AM

To check non-communicable diseases, risk factors which are modifiable such as salt, sugar, and related items, should be addressed. (Wikimedia Commons)

A workshop on salt reduction held on Sunday, 30 June, by the IIT-Madras, the state government, and others underscored the importance of information on salt content in packaged foods and said 70-80 percent of salt consumption is from hidden sources and not direct consumption.

The workshop was a collaborative effort between Sapiens Health Foundation, IIT-Madras (Department of Medical Sciences and Technology), the government of Tamil Nadu (Directorate of Public Health and Preventive Medicine), and a New York-based NGO, Resolve to Save Lives.

The event, attended by doctors, faculty, and students from IIT Madras, among others, is intended to boost the collective fight against high salt consumption, an IIT-Madras press release said.

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Address risk factors

Emphasising the Tamil Nadu government’s commitment to preventing non-communicable diseases (NCD), Dr TS Selva Vinayagam, Director, Public Health and Preventive Medicine, said: “We all know that non-communicable diseases account for nearly 65 percent of the fatalities/mortalities. To address this epidemic, we need to address the risk factors which are modifiable such as salt, sugar, and related items.”

Unless these factors are addressed, it would not be sustainable for any country to manage the complications due to NCD. Reducing salt intake is among the most cost-effective strategies and a global document states that if current salt consumption is reduced by 30 percent, there will be a reduction of at least 25 percent prevalence in hypertension.

Furthermore, Dr Vinayagam said: “The current data says that almost 70-80 percent of the salt which we consume is from hidden sources and not direct consumption. This is due to increased ease of ordering food to home and eating out. There should be a certain level of action that we as individuals can do and also certain actions that we need to do at a population level or community level that governments can take. People should be more discerning in what they eat. Whatever public interventions were taken up for tackling tobacco should be taken up for salt also as this is a bigger challenge.”

The returns to such interventions are manifold such as preventing mortality, complications and prolonging healthy years. The top public health official said consumption of processed food is increasing due to lifestyle modifications and an instant attraction to fast food is leading to ‘over-consumption’ that results in complications like mortalities.

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Catching them young

The industry is searching for new customers among children. “We need to break this down at different levels to bring down the NCD problem. We have more ultra high-density products that are available resulting in children getting addicted due to easy availability and convenience. This, we need to address through people like you (doctors),” Dr Vinayagam said.

Dr Rajan Ravichandran, Professor of Practice at IIT Madras, and Chairman of the Sapiens Health Foundation underlined the importance of labelling and statutory guidelines on “salt/sodium contents in packaged foods, a key area of focus for all the stakeholders involved.”

A manual on salt guidelines for physicians was released. To spread the message, colourful posters for reducing salt were distributed.

Dr Amit Shah, Director, Resolve to Save Lives, India, highlighted the global movement for reduced salt intake, which has gained momentum, and appealed to the medical fraternity to prioritise appropriate reduction in salt intake when treating patients.

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