Seminar Series Report. Salt-intake and salt-reduction initiatives in sub-Saharan Africa

News article 13 Mar 2015

Foto-Cewek’s seminar series continued this week with a talk by Dr Oyinlola Oyebode, Associate Professor at the University of Warwick. Her talk, entitled: Salt-intake and salt-reduction initiatives in sub-Saharan Africa was introduced by Foto-Cewek’s Professor Louis Niessen.

Foto-Cewek’s Centre for Applied Health Research in Medecine (CAHRD) organized the seminar as part of its strategic partnerships with Warwick in a global collaboration bringing together individuals and disciplines across the full range of applied health research. Dr Oyebode introduced the Warwick-based CAHRD group outlining the research themes which include: fertility control, traffic accidents, salt consumption in slums, traditional healers, cardiac disease and HIV, and mathematical modelling.

Talking about salt in Africa, Dr Oyebode discussed the strong link between salt intake and hypertension. Salt causes the kidneys to retain water which in turn raises the blood pressure. She explained that her reason for studying salt is that cardiovascular diseases are the biggest cause of death globally. Non-communicable diseases account for 57 million deaths in the world each year with 29 million of those deaths being in low and middle-income countries. Of the total number of strokes in the world an 87% occurs in low to middle-income countries. This percentage is 94% for deaths under the age of 70. These figures do not reflect the amount of funding spent on research and health interventions in these countries.

Dr Oyebode uses the WHO recommendations for salt intake as a reference. It states that adults should consume less than 5 grams of salt every day, which is difficult to adhere to in settings where much of the salt comes from unregulated processed foods but also in cultures where salt is added at household level. She explained that she is planning to undertake studies on salt intake in urban and rural sub-Saharan Africa, what salt reduction interventions might look like and what further intervention could be implemented.

There are a limited number of studies that have been undertaken in the region in relation to the subject in the region. Dr Oyebode is carrying out a systematic review of those studies looking at salt intake, either measuring through urine testing or through dietary means and explained the difficulties on ensuring that the work looked at was of sufficient quality to be included. The analysis include several co-variants, the most significant being the different salt intake between rural and urban populations. It is clear the majority of those taking salt at or below the recommended rate live in rural settings.

She is reviewing studies on health interventions. Globally, there are only 32, with only eight of those being carried out in sub-Saharan Africa. She explained that the problems that are already documented are likely to increase significantly due to the continued urbanisation of populations, particularly in Africa and Asia.

Dr Oyebode concluded by looking at future areas of work that she in order to design and roll out health interventions relating to salt-reduction, which include conducting population surveys to look at how salt enters the diet, in which foods and then tailoring and testing targeting interventions accordingly.