Finnish study links heavy salt intake with obesity
Americans gain weight because they eat large amounts of salt, say Finnish professors Heikki Karppanen and Eero Mervaala in their recent study, which was published on Thursday in the medical journal Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases.
The trend can also explain increased obesity among Finns. Even though total salt intake has decreased, breakfast cereals and fast foods favoured by children and young people contain large amounts of salt. These are often washed down with sugary soft drinks.
Salt is a major factor in high blood pressure among Finns, observe Karppanen and Mervaala of the universities of Helsinki and Kuopio.
Salt consumption in Finland declined to one third of the previous level in 30 years. At the same time, blood pressure - both systolic and diastolic - decreased by an average 10–mm Hg. There was also a decrease of 75-80 percent in mortality from heart attacks and strokes during the same period. High blood pressure has an impact on both diseases.
Even though salt intake continued to decline in the early part of this decade, the most recent figures, from 2002, indicate that men continued to consume about double the recommended amount of salt, and women also slightly exceeded the recommended levels.
High blood pressure remains a common affliction in Finland; half a million Finns get compensation from the Social Insurance Institution (KELA) for blood pressure medication.
Heavy consumption of salt is seen as a contributory factor to the obesity problem in the United States, where salt consumption is 50 percent higher than it was in the 1980s.
Salt increases thirst, which is quenched with soft drinks and juices, adding 278 extra calories a day. The exercise required to burn these calories is about an hour and ten minutes of walking a day.
Earlier this year the American Medical Association recommended that salt be removed from the list of safe foods kept by the Food and Drug Administration.
In their article, Karppanen and Mervaala recommend that prevention of obesity among children would require decreasing consumption of salty breakfast cereals, potato crisps, and other salty snack foods.
Foods intended for children currently contain massive amounts of salt. For instance, in Britain, snack foods were found to contain between 11 and 232 times as much salt as the water of the Atlantic Ocean.
The researchers also report that multinational companies market products with different amounts of salt to different countries. By looking at the companies’ own websites, they found that a chicken burger in Belgium contains three times as much salt as the same product does in Ireland.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Norwegian Orkla Group buys Åland snack food manufacturer Chips (9.11.2004)
Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases website: abstract of article Sodium Intake and Hypertension