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Tackling salty Pacific Islands

The Global Alliance for Chronic Disease (GACD) has announced major funding towards improving heart disease in the Pacific Islands. Over AU$1million dollars will be dedicated towards comprehensive salt reduction programmes in Fiji and Samoa, based on the success of the George Institute’s salt reduction workin Australia and internationally.

“We know that diets high in salt are bad for health. By reducing population salt intake you can reduce the social and economic impact of diseases such as high blood pressure, which place incredible stress on health systems and services”, said Principal Investigator, Dr Jacqui Webster.

Following the Pacific Island Food Summit in Vanuatu in April 2010, Dr Webster has been collaborating with the World Health Organization to support the development salt reduction intiatives Pacific Islands, where salt intake is extremely high.

“However, to really address this issue effectively, we need to have an accurate assessment of salt consumption. The Global Alliance for Chronic Diseases Research Grant will enable the research team to obtain an accurate baseline of salt intake and sources of salt in the diet in Fiji and Samoa. At the same time, we will assess consumer knowledge and behaviour to identify the most effective channels to change consumer habits”, Dr Webster added.

This evidence will then inform a number of strategies targeted at stores, caterers, bakers, food manufacturers and consumers. Researchers will then evaluate efforts by repeating the measurements done at the baseline assessment phase.

Dr Webster will be working with Dr Wendy Snowdon from the Pacific Reseach Centre for the Prevention of Obesity and Non-Communicable Diseases in Fiji on the three-year project.

Whilst there is a growing body of international evidence about the effectiveness of strategies to reduce sodium, there is little work applying the lessons to developing countries.

“We are honoured to have received this funding, as this project will build on the good work so far supported by the World Health Organization to address the urgent need for accurate data on salt consumption in the Pacific Islands. It will ensure strategies to reduce salt intakes are based on the best available evidence”, Dr Webster said.