By Thabile Maphanga

JOHANNESBURG, March 14 (NNN-SABC) — One in six South Africans will die of a stroke, while one in four above the age of 15 is living with hypertension. These and other lifestyle diseases are some of the issues under discussion at the Salt Summit in Sandton, north of Johannesburg.

It is being attended by food industry leaders and health authorities to discuss efforts to reduce the salt intake in South Africa.

Last year, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi signed a law calling for the reduction to at least 5.0 grammes per day the amount of salt intake. It is estimated that more than 6,000 lives can be saved and 4,000 cases of stroke avoided in South Africa every year simply by lowering the salt content of bread alone.

Bad diet, high salt intake, abuse of alcohol, being overweight and obese, as well as lack of physical exercise are the main causes of death and ill health.

Professor Alan Bryer from the Stroke Unit at the Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town says: “The estimates are that we’ve had 75,000 new cases of stroke in South Africa, of which 25,000 were fatal within the first 28 days.

“And in 2007, there were 350,000 people living with strokes in Sough Africa of whom 35 per cent had moderate to severe disability as a result of the stroke.”

Professor Tony Meyers of the Department of Nephrology (field of medicine that studies the kidney) at the Wits Donald Gordon Hospital here, says one in ten people has kidney problems in South Africa.

He has also pointed to the high salt intake. “Studies that have been made have shown that 60 per cent of our Black citizens are on a kidney failure programme. In other words, at the top of the pyramid they’re dialysis and transplant era are there because of primary essential hypertension, this is primary genetic family hypertension.”

Professor Kriselda Steyn of the Chronic Diseases Initiative for Africa at the University of Cape Town has urged food companies to reduce the amount of salt in the preparation of food products.

“It is to ensure that people add less salt when they prepare food and that they don’t add salt at the table when they eat food. This accounts for between 35 and 40 per cent of all the salt consumed in South Africa,” he said

“The reduction in the amount of salt that food companies introduce when they prepare food to be sold to the public is the biggest contribution to salt intake in the country.”

Food manufacturing company Unilever says 75 per cent of its food products will meet the target of reducing salt intake to 5.0 grammes per day by 2020.

Carla Hilhorst, director of Unilever’s Centre of Excellence Structured Emulsions in Vlaardingen, The Netherland, said: “By doing all these product reformulation efforts, we are increasing the availability of foods with reduced sodium levels but we are also starting to invest time and effort to boost the consumer demand for sodium reduced food.”

The Health Department has contributed 5.0 million Rand (about 463,000 US dollars) to partner the Health and Stroke Foundation of South Africa to educate the public about the dangers of consuming salt.

Deputy Health Minister Gwen Ramokgopa said: “The department of health is partnering with the Heart and Stroke Foundation around a joint campaign to educate and inform the public about health consequences; about salt intake.

“This project will target LSM 3 to 7 which constitutes around 70 to 80 per cent of the public and the Department of Health has contributed R5 million to this course.”

The Living Standards Measure (LSM) is a unique means of segmenting the South African market.

Delegates say while they all agree on the health benefits of reducing the salt intake, behaviour change is most difficult and they will now work on efforts to convince the public to adopt healthier lifestyles.