Ditch the salt, control blood pressure to live longer
World Hypertension Day is celebrated on May17.

Dear Editor,

THE Heart Foundation of Jamaica (HFJ), in its observation of Salt Awareness Week and World Hypertension Day, anxiously awaits the implementation of the salt reduction policy to help reduce the incidence of hypertension in Jamaica through less salt consumption in the population.

Due to the well-established link between excess salt consumption and the development of hypertension, Salt Awareness Week has been moved to the third week of May, in alignment with World Hypertension Day.

The most recent 'Jamaica Health and Lifestyle Survey III (2016-2017)' reports that approximately one in every 10 Jamaican consumes excessive amounts of salt/sodium by adding salt at the table or through frequent consumption of salty sauces and processed foods high in sodium. The data also shows that one in every three Jamaicans, 15 years and older, is living with hypertension (33.8 per cent). Even more worrisome results from a 2017 study showed that over 30,000 Jamaican students between 10-19 years have been diagnosed with hypertension.

Diets higher in sodium/salt are associated with an increased risk of developing hypertension. Hypertension, also called high blood pressure, is known as the silent killer because its symptoms are not always obvious. High blood pressure can increase the risk of heart attack, heart failure, stroke, kidney disease, and blindness. It is one of the major risk factors for heart disease, the number one killer worldwide, including Jamaica. It is, therefore, little wonder that this year's theme for World Hypertension Day is 'Measure Your Blood Pressure Accurately, Control It, Live Longer'.

The burden this poses not only on the individual and their families but on our health system and national budget cannot be ignored. Most of these cases are entirely preventable, so it is vital that we all take measures to improve our health and prevent these events from happening in the first place. Eating less salt is one of the quickest and most effective ways of improving our health, but how can we cut back on our salt when everything we buy is full of it?

From sliced bread to biscuits, Friday night takeaways, and 'healthy' salads, everything has added salt. In fact, three-quarters of the salt we eat is found in the foods we buy, and it's impossible to take it out once it's been added.

The foundation is encouraging Jamaicans to ditch the salt for the sake of our hearts, eat more fruits and vegetables, and cut back on the amount of ultra-processed products consumed daily. It is also calling on the Government to support the implementation of the high-in black octagon front-of-package food labels which the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)/Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW) research has proven to be the most effective for our consumers to identify foods high in salt, fat, and sugars.

Delaying the implementation of this form of front-of-package labelling will stymie efforts to reduce hypertension in our society, which continues to contribute to the high levels of non-communicable diseases and increased government expenditure associated with treatment. The foundation supports public policy based on credible, reliable, evidence-based peer research.

On this occasion, let us ensure that we know our numbers, get screened for hypertension, and be aware of the health implications. Let us be mindful of the negative impact of excess salt on health and ditch the salt so that we can all live longer, healthier lives.

Heart Foundation of Jamaica

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