Over the past three decades in Finland, deaths from heart disease and stroke have both fallen 75 to 80 percent. As sodium intake has dropped 42 percent, and the Finnish population has made other healthy changes, life expectancy has risen more than 10 percent. By contrast, in the 1960s, Finland suffered the highest heart disease rates in the world. To grapple with the problem, its government launched measures to improve the production and marketing of health foods, passed salt labeling laws, held mass-media campaigns, and conducted school programs and worksite interventions.
In its “traffic-light” labeling program, the United Kingdom designates foods as high (red), medium (yellow) and low (green) in fat, saturated fat, sugar, and salt. The country’s Food Standards Agency published a set of voluntary salt reduction targets in 2006 for 85 categories of food. The U.K. program has begun to reduce average adult salt consumption.
From 1998 to 1999, food processors in New Zealand reduced sodium content in breakfast cereals by 61 percent, in bread by 26 percent, and in margarine by 11 percent—eliminating about 33 tons of salt from these products. Foods that meet government standards can use a check-mark label that makes it easier for consumers to choose healthier fare.
In 2007, the World Health Organization, citing conclusive evidence that excess sodium causes hypertension, called for worldwide reformulation of processed and prepared foods with the lowest possible sodium content.