As FDA stumbles, laws to control salt in diet sought
Health academics and advocates are calling for tighter legal measures to rein in the sodium content in food.
The calls were a response to an unsuccessful campaign by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) encouraging food manufacturers to voluntarily reduce the sodium content in their products by 5% in recent years.
Phunlap Chanthawichitwong, the FDA deputy secretary-general, admitted the agency has no authority to impose legal controls over sodium content. It can just raise awareness among concerned parties about the associated health benefits and support them to take action, he said.
"If consumers were conscious of the danger of salty food, I believe it would compel manufacturers to change their ways," he said at an academic conference in Bangkok.
Surasak Kantachuwetsiri, president of Less Salt, an advocacy group campaigning for Thai people to consume less salt in their diet, said a study showed sodium taxing and pricing measures can help slash 98 billion baht a year off health care costs linked to diseases attributed to high sodium intake in Thailand.
Another recent study found even a small drop in the global consumption of sodium can significantly lower the number of people dying of heart disease and other health problems associated with blood vessels affected by a high sodium intake, said Marc Jaffe, senior vice-president of the World Health Organisation's (WHO) Save 100 Million Lives project.
A person should consume no more than 2,000 milligrammes, or 1 teaspoon, of sodium per day, said Daniel Kertesz, the WHO's representative in Thailand.
Too much sodium can also cause brain blood vessel disease, premature deaths, kidney disease, fragile bones and stomach cancer, said Dr Kertesz.
If consumption can be reduced globally, over 2.5 million lives could be saved each year, he said.
On average, Thai people consume 4,300mg per day, or more than twice the WHO's recommended maximum limit. This explains why one in four Thais have high blood pressure, he added.
The number of patients requiring regular kidney dialysis is rising, said Wiwat Rotchanaphiyakorn, director of the Centre for Health Policy and Management, which is affiliated with Ramathibodi Hospital.