Health Ministry to investigate salt consumption in Jamaica

Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr Christopher Tufton (left) with Professor Fitzroy Henry (second from left) and Dr Bernadette Theodore-Gandi (centre), the PAHO/WHO representative to Jamaica, and other participants during the recent regional workshop on the reduction of salt consumption in the Caribbean.

The Ministry of Health and Wellness is shortly to begin a study on the Salt Consumption Practices of Jamaicans.

The study, which is to be conducted in partnership with the Caribbean Institute for Health Research at the University of the West Indies and cost an estimated $13.5 million, is intended to provide contextual information for the implementation of a National Salt Reduction Programme to reduce blood pressure and associated cardiovascular disease.

Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr Christopher Tufton made the revelation at the June 3 (2019) opening ceremony of the regional stakeholders’ workshop on strategies to reduce salt consumption for the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in the Caribbean.

“The project, which, among other things, is to capture baseline data on salt consumption as well as salt content in packaged and restaurant foods, is also in alignment with the Ministry’s National Strategic and Action Plan for Prevention and Control of NCDs, and the mandate of our Food Industry Task Force,” the Minister noted.

TUFTON… to say that Jamaica has a significant high blood pressure problem is no understatement, and even more alarming is that we are not alone.

His announcement comes against the background of concerning statistics for hypertension (high blood pressure) among Jamaicans. Quoting from the Jamaica Health and Lifestyle Survey for 2016/2017, Tufton told his audience at the UWI Regional Headquarters in Kingston that:

  • 1 in 3 Jamaicans are hypertensive – 35.8% women and 31.7% men, according to the Jamaica Health and Lifestyle Survey for 2016/17;
  • Four out of every 10 Jamaicans with hypertension are unaware of their status – 60% men and 26% women; and
  • More and more Jamaicans aged 15 to 74 years old are developing hypertension. In 2017, 31.5% of persons in this age group had high blood pressure compared to 20.9% in 2001.

“To say that Jamaica has a significant high blood pressure problem is no understatement, and even more alarming is that we are not alone. High blood pressure in our people is a Caribbean-wide problem; and it is one that threatens to become even more of a challenge, unless we address the risk factors, including our high salt intake,” he said.

The World Health Organisation recommends a daily intake of salt (which is 40% sodium and 60% chloride) of less than 5 grams (or 5,000 mg) or some 2 grams (or 2,000 mg) per day of sodium. This helps to reduce blood pressure and the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Still data from the region shows that consumption has been exceeding that recommendation. The 2011 Barbados Salt Intake Study, for example, reveals that:

  • Men 27-50 years old have a mean daily sodium intake of 4,313 mg while men aged 51-73 years have a mean sodium intake of 2,653 mg; and
  • Women aged 25-50 years have a mean sodium intake of 2,897 mg and those 51-73 years old, 2,126 mg.

In addition to the study, Tufton said a number of other initiatives are coming to help to counter the salt problem in Jamaica. They include the development of National School Nutrition Standards to support the implementation of the nutrition-related aspects of the National School Nutrition Policy that is to go to Cabinet for approval.

Participants at the recent regional workshop on the reduction of salt consumption in the Caribbean, held at the University of the West Indies Regional Headquarters in Kingston.

“Over the long term, they are intended to reduce obesity rates in the school-aged population, aided in part by a strategy to increase the use of locally produced goods, and minimise the amount of processed food in meals and snacks offered by schools,” Tufton said.

This is important given that current high levels of salt intake is not only due to adding salt at the table. Referencing the 2009 PAHO/WHO policy statement, the Minister indicated that “in most populations, by far the largest amount of dietary salt comes from ready-made meals and pre-prepared foods, including bread, processed meats, and even breakfast cereals”.

It is against this background that he also urged a collaborative response to treating with salt consumption, particularly with increasing blood pressure as “the leading risk factor for death globally and the second leading risk for disability by causing heart disease, stroke and kidney failure”.