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Taxing salty foods could save lives?

health and fitness Updated: Apr 25, 2012 13:54 IST
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In a nod to the UK, where major food manufacturers have agreed to slash the salt content of their foods, a new Harvard study says that a salt tax and voluntary industry reductions could reduce heart disease-related deaths by three percent.

In hard numbers, that translates to 519,000 deaths around the world.

The study, presented at the World Congress of Cardiology in Dubai last week, evaluated two different interventions: a taxation on salt and voluntary salt reduction measures currently being implemented in the UK.

In partnership with the British government’s Public Health Responsibility Deal, which pledges to help Britons trim the fat -- literally-- major food manufacturers and retailers like Coca-Cola Great Britain, PepsiCo, Heinz, Asda, Mars and Tesco have agreed to slash the salt, calorie and fat content of their products.

So far, the salt reduction measures implemented in the UK has led to a net intake reduction of 9.5 percent in the country, thanks to manufacturers like Kraft Foods UK and HJ Heinz Co. Ltd., which slashed the salt content of products like its HP sauce and canned soups like cream of chicken and cream of tomato.

Together with the British model and a taxation scheme, Harvard researchers estimate that the dual strategy could reduce the number of people needing treatment for conditions like hypertension, heart attacks and stroke in 19 developing countries.

For instance, researchers say such a public health strategy could reduce the incidence of heart attacks by up to 1.7 percent in China and 1.5 percent in India. That statistic rises when it comes to stroke, at 4.7 percent and 4 percent in China and India respectively.

According to the World Heart Federation, heart disease kills 17.3 million people every year, and 80 percent of these deaths occur in low and middle-income countries.

The concept of taxing high-salt foods follows in the heels of taxing junk foods high in trans fats, sugar and empty calories currently implemented in countries like Hungary and Denmark.