Do salt packets need a tobacco-style health warning?

Doctors and health experts said urgent action was needed to cut salt consumption. Warning labels could read salt ‘increases the risk of stroke, heart disease’ and more. The WHO aims to cut sodium intake by 30% by 2025. But is it really necessary to have such warnings on salt packets, My Medical Mantra spoke with a few health experts to know whether such a move. And also what impacts this could have on health

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To reduce dietary salt intake, a position statement published earlier this week in the Journal of Clinical Hypertension suggests that salt sold in supermarkets for consumption and salt dispensers in restaurants should carry a front-of-pack, tobacco-style health warning.

This position statement requests that governments require health warnings on packages of sodium chloride (salt) sold for consumption and sodium dispensers. The warning label should be clearly visible and easily readable, indicating that consumption of excess sodium is a health risk and advising consumers to use less sodium.

The hard-hitting approach could contribute to saving millions of lives, the health experts hope.

Just like the tobacco health warning helped bring in a shift of attitude among people, this too could have a similar effect.

Has the situation become so grim that warnings are needed on salt products, health experts say yes!

Dr Avinash Saoji, the founder and director of Prayas, an NGO based in Amravati, Maharashtra, said, “In India, people consume salt three times more than normal usage. When we think about salt, we talk about salt packets. But, junk food is also a major source of excess salt. Excess salt causes a variety of diseases. People tend to go to the doctor rather than taking preventive measures. A warning on salt packages is the need of the hour.”

We need to make sure that the excess consumption of salt in the general population reduces. Salt intake guidelines as per the World Health Organization is five grams per day, but Indians consume an excessive amount of salt. Children consume junk food and people are accustomed to namkeens and salty snacks.

Due to this, people are at a higher risk of developing lifestyle-related disease like hypertension, heart disease, stroke and chronic kidney diseases.

In India, the burden of chronic kidney disease is huge and rising fast. An estimated 200 new patients are added to the dialysis patients’ pool each year. Only 15,000 continue dialysis after a month into their treatment only about 8,000 kidney transplants happen in India each year. 5 lakh people in waiting for kidney transplant.

While speaking to My Medical Mantra, Dr Shreerang Bichu, HOD, Nephrology, Bombay Hospital, “Excess consummation of salt is a major health threat in India. And, a warning will surely help people to understand the ill effects of excess salt. Salt is solely responsible for hypertension and kidney diseases. We need to spread awareness that excess salt is bad for health. And, the warning on the salt pack will convey the message to the masses.”

As the pictorial warnings were introduced on tobacco products, the use of cigarettes reduced by a certain margin. Health experts believe if something similar is done with a salt warning it can have a larger impact on the population and an awareness message would go across to reduce the intake of salt.

Dr Avinash Bondawe, President-Elect, IMA, Maharashtra, informed, “Health warning on salt packages is not the right thing to do. Salt is an important part of our diet. It contains sodium, which is required by the body. So, instead of health warning, awareness must be spread about the ill effects of consuming excess salt.”

A sample warning label which could be used: “Too much sodium in the diet causes high blood pressure and increases risk of stomach cancer, stroke, heart disease, and kidney disease. Limit your use.”