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Non-communicable diseases: less salt, healthier life

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by B Liverpool

Non-communicable Diseases Focal Point

Ministry of Health, Wellness and the Environment

Non-Communicable Diseases are one of the greatest social and economic development challenges facing us in the 21st century. According to World Health Organization (WHO), 2014, the Caribbean region has the highest burden of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) in the Americas. {{more}}NCDs, including cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and obesity related conditions now account for 59 per cent of the 57 million deaths which occur globally every year, and almost half, (46 per cent), of the global burden of the disease.

In St Vincent and the Grenadines, cancers, heart disease, strokes, diabetes, obesity and chronic respiratory diseases now account for the largest share of premature deaths (before the age of 70 years). Figures from the Ministry of Health, Wellness and the Environment Monitoring and Evaluation Health Sector Report 2013 revealed that in St Vincent and the Grenadines, there were 6,727 persons diagnosed with hypertension/high blood pressure, 1,741 persons diagnosed with diabetes and 3,354 persons diagnosed with both hypertension and diabetes.

The Ministry of Health, Wellness and the Environment is cognizant that failure to reduce the impact of NCDs will continue to cause a lot of unnecessary deaths, reduce productivity and make it very difficult for the Ministry to attain the WHO Global Action Plan Goal, which is to reduce morbidity and mortality from chronic non-communicable diseases, by 25 per cent by 2025. The management of NCDs and risk factors require daily attention of every adult to diet, activity level, and other behaviours, such as tobacco use, and harmful use of alcohol. Hence, the theme for Nutrition Awareness Week 2015, which was celebrated from the 1st – 7th June 2015, was “Active Living: Less salt, healthier life.”

Most persons today are consuming much more salt than is needed by the body. According to WHO, the internationally recommended salt intake is less than 5g/person/day or one teaspoon/person/day. There is strong evidence to prove that salt added to food is a major factor that increases blood pressure in adults, as well as children. A high salt diet increases the risk of gastric cancer, osteoporosis, renal stones and increase severity of asthma. Moreover, elevated blood pressure increases the risk for cardiovascular and kidney diseases and death. Salt, which is sodium chloride, has long been linked to hypertension/high blood pressure, and, hypertension/high blood pressure is the primary risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

According to WHO, the normal level for blood pressure is below 120/80 mmHg, where 120 represents the systolic measurement (peak pressure in the arteries) and 80 represents the diastolic measurement (minimum pressure in the arteries). Blood pressure between 120/80 and 139/89 is called prehypertension (to denote increased risk of hypertension), and a blood pressure of 140/90 or above is considered hypertension.

Hypertension/high blood pressure is one of the most important preventable causes of premature mortality worldwide. In the Caribbean, the prevalence of hypertension is estimated to be 26 per cent, and as high as 56 per cent in studies of populations over 25 years and over 40 years respectively. It should be noted that in St Vincent and the Grenadines, Ischaemic Heart Disease (IHD), was the second leading cause of death, between 2009 and 2013. IHD is a known complication of hypertensive disease.

In view of the high prevalence of the disease in SVG and the Caribbean, the Ministry of Health, Wellness and the Environment is calling on persons to take the necessary steps to ensure that sodium consumption is low. Some of the preventative measures include avoiding canned and pickled foods, choosing low salt cheeses and substitute herbs and other spices in the place of salt. Moreover, persons from the age of 18 years are encouraged to have routine BP screening done, especially persons with a family history of hypertension, stroke, heart disease or diabetes. Reducing dietary salt is the most cost-effective public health measure available to lower blood pressure and mortality.

The Ministry of Health, Wellness and the Environment will continue to forge ahead for valuable partnerships with civil society and public and private organizations, in the implementation of programmes aimed at reducing the morbidity and mortality associated with NCDs.

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