Portugal has one of the highest mortality rates due to stroke in Western Europe and this has been attributed to the high salt intake of the population. Many Portuguese traditional food – including the salted fish delicacy bacalhau (salted cod) – contains high amounts of sodium chloride. However, even the normal daily fare such as bread also contains a lot of salt. The result is that the Portuguese population, take in, on the average, twice the amount of the recommended daily salt intake. -the stroke rate there is twice that of coronary disease.
A group of health led by Dr. Luis Martin of the Fernando Pessoa University formed the Portuguese Action Against Salt and Hypertension (PAASH) and conducted studies on Portuguese salt consumption habits and the health consequences. The results show that:
- An adult consumes on average 11.9 g of sodium per day, two times the recommended daily intake.
- Portuguese bread contains an average of 19.2 g of sodium per kg, which is 53% more than what is found in bread in other European countries. This highly contributes (21%) to the daily sodium intake.
- The amount of salt by consumed by the population correlated with blood pressure and aortic stiffness.
- In 2007, only 29% of the Portuguese population was aware of the health risks of excessive salt consumption
The PAASH advocates saw an immediate need for action to increase awareness and reduce salt consumption. They estimated that “a reduction of just 1 g per day of salt intake would save almost 2500 lives per year in Portugal, which has a population of around 10 million.”
Dr. Martin then started a massive awareness campaign in print and web media, as well as on on radio and TV. They persuaded politicians and well-known celebrities, including star football players and children’s cartoon characters, to help spread the word about the health risks of salt.
Dr. Martin explains the success of
It seems that the campaign is starting to bear fruit.
- A recent survey showed that awareness has increased up to 75% of the population.
- They persuaded the Portuguese Bakery Association to cooperate by coming up with a recipe that provides for lower salt content without losing taste or quality.
- They lobbied with legislators, resulting in the passing of a law by the Portuguese Parliament that requires food labels to show salt content of food products as well as and limits the sodium content in processed foods to a maximum of 14 g/kg.
With these results, the Portuguese has set a good example to the rest of Europe and the world that health awareness campaigns do work.
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