Seventeen groups and associations last week pledged to get Canadians within the "healthy" range of salt intake by January 1 2020. In order to achieve this goal, the coalition of health groups is urging the federal government to set graduated targets for sodium levels according to food categories and monitor progress by 2012 and 2016. It is also asking for the establishment of effective monitoring systems to track sodium levels in the diets of Canadians, and for the education of Canadians on the health risks of high dietary sodium and how to reduce consumption. Other priorities cited include providing incentives to the food industry to slash salt levels, and ensuring health professionals understand the need to reduce dietary sodium and educate their membership about health risks and how to reduce intake. "The individual can only do so much and now more food companies have to step up," said Dr Kevin Willis, director of the Canadian Stroke Network. "If we discovered that a food additive was causing 30 percent of all cancers, something would be done right away. The same action is needed with sodium to prevent stroke, heart disease and other vascular illnesses." Increased blood pressure is currently estimated to be the leading risk factor for death in Canada, causing most of the strokes and much of the heart disease in the country. According to Dr Norm Campbell of Blood Pressure Canada, who spearheaded the development of a National Sodium Policy, almost one in three Canadians who have hypertension would have normal blood pressure if there was less sodium in the nation's food. Signatories of the policy on salt include Blood Pressure Canada, the Canadian Stroke Network, Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, Canadian Medical Association, Canadian Diabetes Association, Canadian Public Health Association and Dietitians of Canada. Figures from Statistics Canada reveal that the average Canadian consumes in excess of 3,100 mg of sodium a day, the vast majority of which comes from processed foods. Health Canada and the US National Academy of Sciences (Institute of Medicine) have determined that an adequate daily intake for a healthy adult is 1,200mg to 1,500mg of sodium. Last week, Canadian Minister of Health Tony Clement announced the establishment of a Sodium Working Group as a first step towards the development of a long-term national strategy to reduce dietary sodium levels. "Cardiovascular diseases are the number one cause of death for Canadians, and sodium intake is one of the largest controllable factors that contribute to these diseases," said Minister Clement. "Through the formation of this working group, our Government is taking a major step in helping Canadians improve their health, and the health of their families." The US government is also showing signs of stepping up to calls for sodium reduction. Last week the nation's Food and Drug Administration (FDA) set a public hearing to examine the possible implications of tighter limits on the salt content of food products. The hearing, which is to take place on November 29, comes after the filing of a citizen petition by advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest, which had requested changes to the regulatory status of salt. Filed in 2005, the petition called for the implementation of limits on salt in processed foods, and the use of health messages related to salt. CSPI also called for the FDA to revoke the 'generally recognized as safe' (GRAS) status of the substance, suggesting that it should instead be treated as a food additive. FDA said the purpose of the forthcoming hearing is to share its current framework of policies regarding salt and sodium and to receive comments on this current framework and on potential future approaches, including approaches described in the citizen petition. To view the policy on sodium published by the Canadian Coalition on Sodium, click here.