Public Release: 

Salt targets: A life-saving levy?

World Heart Federation

Melbourne (May 2014) - A new study has found that thousands of lives and millions of dollars could be saved by the implementation of national targets to reduce salt consumption, according to research presented at the World Heart Federation's World Congress of Cardiology.

Experts agree that most populations consume too much salt1, which is linked to one of the main risk factors of cardiovascular disease (CVD) - hypertension or high blood pressure. To reduce this burden, there is increasing international pressure in the health community and in governments to reduce the population's salt intake, which has been shown to reduce the burden of CVD.

In South Africa, the Government set targets to reduce salt intake to less than 5g a day per person by 2020 by regulating the food industry and spreading the message for people to use less salt at the table. In 2013 legislation was passed to place mandatory maximum levels for salt in bread and other common processed foodsi, since most of the salt we eat comes from processed foodii.

A new study released at the World Heart Federation's World Congress of Cardiology evaluated the effects of such regulations on health and finances. Results suggest that South Africa's salt target could reduce CVD deaths by 11 percent. By reducing the risk of developing CVD in the first place, it would also prevent households from having to pay costly health care fees, which can lead to additional financial deprivation. The money saved by households could be approximately US$4 million per year, mostly among middle-class families. The South African government, which underwrites health care fees for lower income households, could save approximately US$51 million per year in health care subsidies alone.

The study used economic surveys and epidemiological studies to calculate the potential impact of salt reduction in a cohort of South African adults. It estimated changes in death rates from stroke, ischemic heart disease, heart failure, and end-stage kidney disease. It also estimated changes in health care spending on CVD that would result from lower rates of CVD. The study calculated that South Africa's salt reduction targets would translate to an average of 2.9 - 3.3 gram/day lower salt intake per person, which is similar to targets that have been developed and achieved in other countries.

"Too much salt is a hidden killer. Excess salt leads to higher blood pressure, which is one of the main risk factors for cardiovascular disease. But CVD also poses a large economic burden to society. Many studies have looked at the health benefits from reducing salt in various parts of the world, but ours is one of the first to estimate some of the economic impacts. We took the case of South Africa, where the government recently passed ambitious regulations to reduce salt in processed foods. Our study indicates that in South Africa, successfully implementing national targets like these could not only save thousands of lives each year but also avoid millions of dollars in health care expenses and thousands of cases of poverty from medical bills," commented Dr. David Watkins, who is the study's lead author and a physician-researcher at the University of Cape Town and the University of Washington.

The increasing burden of CVD poses an enormous threat to populations and health systems across the globe that must be combatted through advocacy efforts. Governments have a vital role to play in ensuring improved heart-healthy environments, by providing opportunities for people to make heart-healthy choices, through a combination of public education and national regulations such as salt targets. To mark World Heart Day 2014 on September 29, the World Heart Federation and its members are putting a spotlight on creating heart-healthy environments and calling for a world where people do not face overwhelming displays of unhealthy fast food or unwholesome school meals, all of which often contain high levels of salt.

For more information on World Heart Day go to

Table A iii

1. Hungary 16 - 18g
2. Barbados 12 - 15g
3. Japan 13.2g
4. UK 9.5g
5. Australia 6.5 - 12.0g
6. Chile 10g
7. USA 8.6g
8. South Africa 8 - 10g


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Contact details


Tara Farrell
Phone: + 44 (0) 7769 362880

Rosie Ireland
+ 44 (0) 7590 228701


Sally Green
Phone: +44 (0)20 7067 0566

Alissa Gutteridge
Phone: +44 (0)20 7067 0059

About the World Congress of Cardiology (WCC)

The World Congress of Cardiology is the official congress of the World Heart Federation and is held every two years. The congress brings together thousands of cardiologists and other healthcare professionals from around the world, and represents an important forum for discussing all aspects of prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease. WCC 2014 is taking place in Melbourne, Australia from 4-7 May 2014 and is co-hosted by the National Heart Foundation of Australia and the Cardiac Society of Australia and New Zealand.

About the World Heart Federation

The World Heart Federation is the only global advocacy and leadership organization bringing together the cardiovascular disease (CVD) community to help people everywhere lead heart-healthy lives. We strive for a world where there are at least 25% fewer premature deaths from CVD by 2025.

That's why we and our 200+ members work courageously to end needless deaths from exposure to tobacco and other risk factors, lack of access to treatment, and neglected conditions like rheumatic heart disease which kills hundreds of thousands of children each year. Across 100 countries, with its members, the World Heart Federation works to build global commitment to addressing cardiovascular health at the policy level, generates and exchanges ideas, shares best practice, advances scientific knowledge and promotes knowledge transfer to tackle CVD- the world's number one killer. World Heart Federation is at the heart of driving the CVD agenda and advocating for better heart health - enabling people to live longer, better and more heart healthy lives whoever and wherever they are.

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1 The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that adults should have no more than 5g of salt a day - less than one full teaspoon, however, in most countries the average person consumes between 9 and 12 g a day.

i World Action on Salt & Salt, The World's Taking Action to Reduce Salt Intake, 2013

ii CDC, Get the Facts: Sodium's Role in Processed Foods, 2012

iii Brinsden H and Farrand C (2012), Reducing salt; preventing stroke. Nutrition Bulletin of British Nutrition Foundation

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