Heart disease is the leading cause of death in Australia. It affects around one in six people and comes with a significant social and economic burden. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease, so efforts to reduce blood pressure on a large scale could help reduce rates of heart disease. Salt over-consumption plays a substantial role in increasing blood pressure. The average Australian consumes around 9g of salt per day despite recommendations to limit intake to 5g or less. Evidence suggests that even a modest reduction in salt intake can lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease. Researchers in Northern China initiated a primary school education programme designed to educate children about reducing their own and their families’ salt intake and analysed what effect this had on salt consumption and blood pressure.
The program taught children about the harmful effects of consuming too much salt and encouraged them to educate and support their families to reduce the amount of salt used at home. Children in grade five from primary schools in urban Changzhi were allocated to one of two groups. The intervention group received salt education and materials in addition to their typical health education classes, and received educational materials for their families to encourage them to use less salt when cooking. The control group received standard health education classes.
At the conclusion of the 3.5 month program, the students in the intervention group and their families had a 26% reduction in salt intake compared to the control group.
The results of this study are encouraging and, if maintained over time, could be effective in helping to lower the risk of heart disease. Education programs such as this can be applied on a large scale to have a large impact on the population. Furthermore, educating children from a young age can help to instil good health habits that will persist throughout their lives.
For reference: He, F J et al. School based education programme to reduce salt intake in children and their families (School-EduSalt): cluster randomised controlled trial. BMJ 2015;350:h770 doi=10.1136/bmj.h770