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Healthy Caribbean Coalition - The truth about salt - UWI professor sees cause for concern

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UWI professor says high intake among Jamaicans cause for concern.

BY TANESHA MUNDLE Jamaica Observer staff reporter (www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/The-truth-about-salt_8321273)

First published Saturday, January 29, 2011

A lead researcher at the University of the West Indies (UWI) has expressed concern about the high salt intake among Jamaicans, saying that the issue must be addressed at the Government level if the problem of cardiovascular diseases in Jamaica is to be seriously tackled.

Professor Rainford Wilks, who heads the Epidemiology Research Unit at the Mona Campus, says Jamaica -- like other developing countries -- is facing a serious cardiovascular disease epidemic (CVD).

"If ever there was an example of a public health problem, which buy-in from the society at large, it is the effective reduction of salt intake in order to reduce the epidemic," said Wilks.

He was speaking Wednesday at the launch of Heart Month at the Altamont Court Hotel in Kingston. Heart Month will be observed in February under the theme "The Truth About Salt".

Professor Wilks said that studies have shown that consuming more that five grammes of salt daily, which in his opinion was still too much, is bad for one's health and can increase one's risk of hypertension, increased left ventricular hypertrophy, and kidney damage.

At the same time, he noted that international research has shown that high blood pressure accounts for 7.6 million premature deaths annually and was responsible for 50 per cent of strokes and 47 per cent of heart disease worldwide.

"Blood pressure is a major risk factor for the CVD epidemic and is aggravated by high salt intake," he says

Consuming too much salt, he said, may also cause gastric cancer, osteoporosis, worsening of asthma and obesity, which was probably through increased consumption of high caloric beverages.

Citing data from the Jamaican Healthy Lifestyle Survey 2007-2008, he said 25.5 per cent of Jamaicans are affected by hypertension, 7.9 per cent have diabetes mellitus, and 25.3 per cent are obese.

He said research conducted by his colleagues, has "estimated that there are approximately 12,000 persons with heart attacks and 25,000 with stroke at anytime in the Jamaican population".

However, he said that it has been shown that populations have been able to reduce salt intake by using a combination of mass media awareness campaign and regulation of salt content of food products, which could result in significant decreases in the rate of salt-related diseases at a cost of between US$0.04 and US$0.32 per person per year.

He is recommending that government and non-government agencies, food regulatory agencies, the domestic food industry and health care professionals work with the Pan American Health Organisation to achieve a successful dietary salt reduction in the country.

Meanwhile, Dr Jean Dixon, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health, stressed the importance of practising and maintaining a healthy lifestyle

"The observance of Heart Month resonates strongly with the thrust of the Ministry of Health to promote healthy habits, exercise, rest, reduction of alcohol consumption, prevention of smoking and ... proper dieting to decrease the incidents of lifestyle diseases, including heart disease," she said.

According to Chairman of the Heart Foundation, Dr Knox Hagley, the activities for Heart Month will include screening at shopping centres, including the Boulevard Supercentre, Portmore Mall, Spanish Town Shopping Centre as well as screening by the Heart Foundation mobile team at health centres across the island.

Read the original article here www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/The-truth-about-salt_8321273

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