The Ministry of Health and Wellness has launched a knowledge, attitudes and practices study around salt consumption in Jamaica.
The project, which was launched virtually on Tuesday (July 13), is a collaborative effort between the Ministry and the Caribbean Institute for Health Research, with funding by the National Health Fund (NHF).
Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr. the Hon. Christopher Tufton, who gave the key address at the launch, welcomed the study as part of the Ministry’s efforts to inform consumers on healthy lifestyle choices.
“We have to tackle health from two perspectives, it has to be tackled initially from the prevention perspective and the core of that is consumer information, and then policies that encourage or nudge health-seeking behaviours, and these baseline studies that we’re doing, including this one, is aimed at doing that,” he said.
He also said that healthy habits are critical to the quality and length of an individual’s life, especially against viruses like the novel coronavirus which causes the COVID-19 disease.
“I think COVID-19, which is responsible for close to four million deaths and counting with over 1,000 deaths in Jamaica, if you dissect those deaths, you’ll recognise the importance of lifestyle and why it is critical that we promote healthy living as part of our overall resilience as individuals and as a society,” he stated.
According to the Chief Executive Officer of the NHF, Everton Anderson, of the 17 conditions listed under the fund, hypertension accounted for 25 per cent with a total payout of 1.4 billion dollars last year.
Meanwhile, Dr. Tufton urged that gathering local data will assist the Ministry to develop a roadmap with scientific recommendations to tackle the crisis of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), which are diseases not directly transmissible from one person to another.
High salt consumption, however, can cause persons to develop hypertension which leads to cardiovascular diseases, including strokes, kidney diseases, cancers and diabetes.
Director of the Epidemiology Research Unit at the Caribbean Institute for Health, Professor Trevor Ferguson, said the project will be divided into five components.
He said they will observe spot urine analysis, sodium content in packaged foods and salt content of food sold in restaurants.
In addition there will be “a national survey of 1,200 participants to evaluate knowledge about salt intake and health, attitudes with regard to salt intake and low salt diet and current practices of salt intake, and a validation study using 24-hour urinary sodium”.
Salt, scientifically known as sodium chloride, is a major component of meals in most countries and is commonly used to flavour food, as a binder, stabiliser or food preservative.
Professor Ferguson said it is estimated that humans need about 500 micrograms of sodium to carry out normal body functions such as water balance and nerve conduction. However, increased salt intake has been shown to negatively affect heart systems and is responsible for three million deaths globally.