Africa: Director-General's Opening Remarks At the Launching Event On the WHO Global Sodium Benchmarks for Different Food Categories

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Dr Agnes Kalibata,

Dr Tom Frieden,

Distinguished guests, dear colleagues and friends,

Good morning, good afternoon and good evening, and welcome to everyone who has joined us today.

Most people are aware that COVID-19 has killed more than 3 million people over the past 16 months. But few are aware that high sodium intake is estimated to kill the same number of people - 3 million - every single year.

This is a problem that affects populations in every region, and countries at all income levels.

Excess sodium increases blood pressure, which can lead to cardiovascular diseases and other noncommunicable diseases such as chronic kidney disease, gastric cancer and liver diseases.

As a person who lives with hypertension myself, I try to pay careful attention to the amount of sodium I consume. But it's not easy.

People with NCDs, as well as obesity, are more vulnerable to becoming severely ill from COVID-19. Which makes it all the more urgent for countries to adopt policies that promote healthy eating.

In 2013, Member States agreed on a global target of a 30% relative reduction in mean population intake of salt, with the aim of achieving a target of less than five grams of salt per day by 2025.

Most people continue to consume more than double that amount, and we are far from hitting our target.

Processed foods are the major source of sodium in diets around the world.

Reducing the sodium content in processed foods will save lives.

Today, WHO is proud to announce the release of global sodium benchmarks for more than 60 food categories, which can be used in national policies and strategies to reduce sodium intake.

These benchmarks were developed based on extensive technical and scientific work and the experiences of countries and regions in setting targets for sodium levels.

WHO is grateful for the guidance provided by the group of experts who supported the process over the last two years.

These benchmarks are a valuable tool, but they're only a tool. What matters now is how we use them.

Let me leave you with three areas in which we need to see these benchmarks turned into reality:

First, we need the leadership of governments to adopt these benchmarks and accelerate actions to reduce sodium intake to less than 5 grams of salt per day by 2025, and to adopt the WHO call to action for promoting healthy diets.

Second, we need the leadership of the food industry to implement the benchmarks and reformulate processed foods.

We've seen that leadership from the food industry in the case of trans fats, and we look forward to seeing it again for sodium.

And third, we need the leadership of civil society and consumers to drive demand for lower-sodium products.

Like everything in global health, this is a job for all of us.

The Food Systems Summit in September this year will be an opportunity for all of us - government, industry, civil society and international organizations - to come together to make bold commitments for healthier diets, and a healthier future.

I thank you.

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