New Delhi, March 15: The Union health ministry is mulling policy options to reduce India’s consumption of salt to curb what appears to be a burgeoning nationwide prevalence of high blood pressure, medical experts have said.
Health officials who participated in a meeting on non-communicable diseases have signalled the ministry’s interest in exploring policies to reduce salt consumption, two experts present in the meeting have told The Telegraph.
The experts have cautioned that the process of formulating policies to reduce the use of salt is likely to be a long-drawn and challenging task for India. However, they point out that representatives from India have played an active role in a global consultative process by the World Health Organisation to define a set of voluntary global targets that seek to prevent and control non-communicable diseases.
One of the voluntary targets proposed by the WHO and expected to be approved by the World Health Assembly in May this year is to achieve a 30 per cent reduction in average salt consumption by 2025 from the consumption level in the year 2010.
“Health officials now realise the importance of reducing salt consumption, but any policies to achieve this will need to navigate through multiple players and agencies,” a senior doctor who attended the meeting told this newspaper.
Public health experts estimate that the number of patients in India with high blood pressure is likely to rise from about 140 million in 2008 to nearly 215 million by 2030 and predict that cutting salt intake will be one way to curb this anticipated growth.
The WHO recommends no more than five grams of salt — the equivalent of one tea spoon — per day. But doctors suspect that India’s popular snacks and side-dishes such as pickles, chutneys, sauces, and processed foods lead to high salt intake.
“We don’t have robust nationwide baseline estimates of salt consumption,” said Doriaraj Prabhakaran, a cardiologist and the executive director of the Centre for Chronic Disease Control, New Delhi. “We’ll need to measure salt intake levels.”
Several studies have suggested that the incidence of high blood pressure ranges from 20 to 39 per cent in urban areas and 12 to 17 per cent in rural areas.
High blood pressure is a risk factor for heart attacks, strokes, and other serious illnesses, including kidney disease. Medical studies suggest that high blood pressure remains inadequately controlled in India.