Deputy Health Minister Dr Lee Boon Chye said the ministry has developed a five-year Salt Reduction Strategy (2015 to 2020) made up of three core interventions. --BERNAMA

KUALA LUMPUR: The Health Ministry has set a target for the Malaysian population to lower its salt intake by 15 per cent this year to prevent and control non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

Deputy Health Minister Dr Lee Boon Chye said the ministry has developed a five-year Salt Reduction Strategy (2015 to 2020) made up of three core interventions.

“First, to monitor population salt intake and sodium levels in foods. Second, generate awareness about the need to reduce salt intake and the approaches; and third, lower the sodium content of food products through industry engagement, reformulation and labelling schemes,” he added.

Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs), he said, remains a major NCD and is the leading cause of death worldwide.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that about one in three deaths in the world is due to CVDs; and approximately 75 per cent of these deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries.

Dr Lee said for Malaysia, it is estimated that 73 per cent of total deaths are due to NCDs, and over half of these are due to CVDs.

“Data from our population-based health surveys, the National Health and Morbidity Survey or NHMS, have shown that the prevalence of NCD risk factors continues to rise among Malaysians. This is a very worrying trend for the country.

“One of the key risk factors is hypertension. The worldwide prevalence of hypertension is high. The WHO now estimates that one in three of the world population has hypertension.

“In Malaysia, the prevalence of hypertension in adults aged 18 years and above was 30.3 per cent in 2015 or about 6.1 million adult Malaysians. Out of these, more than half were unaware that they had high blood pressure.”

Dr Lee said hypertension is a major contributing factor to heart disease, stroke and kidney disease.

However, the control of hypertension remains below 40 per cent based on the NHMS (2015) as an estimated 80 per cent of patients receive treatment over time.

“In Malaysia, the amount of sodium consumed, mostly in the form of salt, is well above the recommended intake for good health.

“Excess salt intake causes raised blood pressure. In turn, reducing population salt consumption can lower blood pressure.

“(The ministry can) only give a general guideline, as food consumption is the right of the people. We can only advise… what foods you can consume and what you cannot, but we cannot force people to eat healthily.

“The food industry should also look into ways to reduce sodium in food preparation. This (15 per cent reduction) is a realistic goal,” he added.

Dr Lee advised all Malaysians to monitor their blood pressure and take medicines as prescribed, practice a healthy and active lifestyle, and refrain from smoking and consuming alcohol.