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People around the world are getting too much sodium

Americans aren’t the only ones with an unhealthy sodium habit. Most of the world’s population eats too much sodium—and many people may die early from heart disease and stroke as a result of their high intake—a pair of studies presented last week at the American Heart Association’s (AHA) 2013 Scientific Sessions suggest.

In one study, researchers found that 75 percent of the world’s population takes in nearly double the daily recommended amount of sodium. A high-sodium diet can raise blood pressure and increase the risk for heart attacks, strokes and other cardiovascular problems.

For the study, researchers analyzed 247 surveys conducted around the world between 1990 and 2010 to find out how much sodium people were consuming from commercially prepared food, table salt, and salt and soy sauce added during cooking. The surveys were part of the Global Burden of Diseases Study—a massive project involving 488 scientists in 50 countries.

According to the findings, the sodium intake of those surveyed worldwide averaged 4,000 milligrams a day in 2010. Americans consumed an average of 3,600 milligrams of sodium a day. The AHA recommends consuming less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day (1/2 teaspoon of salt contains 1,200 milligrams).

In another study, researchers linked 15 percent of the world’s cardiovascular disease deaths (and 1 in 10 U.S. deaths from these causes) in 2010 to sodium overconsumption.

The researchers looked at survey data from the Global Burden of Diseases Study. They also conducted a meta-analysis of previous studies that measured how sodium affects high blood pressure, followed by another meta-analysis of how these differences relate to the likelihood of having cardiovascular disease compared with eating 1,000 milligrams of sodium daily (an amount the researchers deemed optimal).

According to the findings, eating too much sodium contributed to 2.3 million deaths from cardiovascular diseases worldwide in 2010. Nearly 40 percent of these deaths were considered premature because they occurred in people younger than 70. Among the 30 largest countries, the U.S. ranked 19th, with 429 deaths per million adults caused by eating too much sodium. The nation with the highest rate of cardiovascular deaths linked to sodium overconsumption was Ukraine, at 2,109 deaths per million adults. The nation with the lowest rate was Qatar, at 73 deaths per million.

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