Most people consume double the recommended 5g of daily salt intake, putting themselves at greater risk of the heart diseases and strokes that kill an estimated 3 million people each year. On May 5, 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a new set of global benchmarks for sodium levels in more than 60 food categories that will help countries reduce sodium contents in foods to improve diets and save lives.
The new document titled “WHO Global Sodium Benchmarks for Different Food Categories” is a guide for countries and industry to reduce the sodium content in different categories of processed foods. Around the world, consumption of processed food is a rapidly increasing source of sodium. Confusingly, similar processed food products often contain different amounts of sodium in different countries. WHO’s harmonized global benchmarks will show countries how they can progressively lower their targets, based on their local food environments, and encourage industry to lower the sodium content in processed foods accordingly and advance toward the WHO goal of 30% reduction in global salt/sodium intake by 2025.
The WHO Global Sodium Benchmarks target a wide range of categories of processed and packaged food products that significantly contribute to overly salty diets. Processed and packaged bread, savoury snacks, meat products and cheese are among the categories of high-sodium food products identified for the new global benchmarks.
Reducing sodium content by reformulating processed foods is a proven strategy to reduce population sodium intake, particularly in places where consumption of processed foods is high. It can also prevent processed foods from becoming a major source of sodium in countries where consumption of these manufactured foods may be rapidly increasing. For instance, in the United Kingdom, voluntary targets for food manufacturers to reformulate products decreased adult salt intake approximately 15% between 2003 and 2011.
These global benchmarks are an important first step. As consumer tastes adjust and technology advances, country governments and the WHO can steadily reduce them over time until population sodium reduction goals have been met.