HEALTHY LIVING
03/21/2013 05:14 pm ET

We're Eating Too Much Salt -- And It's Associated With Heart-Related Deaths

We are eating way too much salt.

And it's killing us.

That's the message from two new studies released Thursday, examining the amount of global salt intake and the number of deaths associated, at least in part, from eating too much salt.

The first study, presented at a meeting of the American Heart Association, shows that 75 percent of people around the world consume significantly more salt every day than is recommended.

Specifically, people around the world ate nearly 4,000 milligrams of salt a day in 2010, which is nearly twice as much as is recommended by the World Health Organization (less than 2,000 milligrams of salt a day) and nearly three times as much as is recommended by the American Heart Association (less than 1,500 milligrams of salt a day).

The analysis included 187 countries, and 247 separate surveys on salt intake between 1990 and 2010 through the Global Burden of Diseases Study. Of those countries, 181 of them had higher daily sodium intake levels than is recommended by the World Health Organization. And 119 of the 187 countries had way higher sodium intake levels (more than 1,000 milligrams of salt above the recommended levels) than recommended by the WHO.

Residents of some countries consumed less salt than others; for example, residents in Kenya and Malawi consumed about 2,000 milligrams of salt per day, while residents in the United States ate about 3,600 milligrams of salt per day. Meanwhile, people in Kazakhstan consumed around 6,000 milligrams of salt per day (the most of all the countries in the analysis), and people in Mauritius and Uzbekistan consumed just slightly less than 6,000 milligrams of salt per day.

"This study is the first time that information about sodium intake by country, age and gender is available," study researcher Dr. Saman Fahimi, M.D., M.Phil., a visiting scientist in the epidemiology department at the Harvard School of Public Health, said in a statement. "We hope our findings will influence national governments to develop public health interventions to lower sodium."

In the second new study, also presented at the meeting of the American Heart Association, Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital researchers found that overconsumption of salt is associated with 2.3 million deaths from heart-related causes in 2010.

The findings are based on 247 surveys on salt intake between 1990 and 2010, also through the Global Burden of Disease Study, as well as meta-analysis of 107 previous trials that examined salt's effect on blood pressure and heart disease risk.

Researchers found that some countries had more deaths associated with sodium consumption, including Ukraine, Russia and Egypt. The countries with the fewest deaths associated with sodium consumption were Qatar, Kenya and the United Arab Emirates.

As for the United States, 429 deaths out of every million were associated with overconsumption of salt.

"National and global public health measures, such as comprehensive sodium reduction programs, could potentially save millions of lives," study researcher Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, M.D., Dr.P.H., co-director of the Program in Cardiovascular Epidemiology and an associate professor of medicine and epidemiology at Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health, said in a statement.

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