There is limited information regarding salt intake in Peru but one recent study conducted in the north of Peru in 2018 reported salt consumption levels of 11 g per day, equivalent to 4.4 g of sodium.
If valid at a national level, this would mean average daily intake is more than double the maximum daily intake of 5 g per day recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Given that high salt intake is linked to high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease, public health policy and food industry reformulation efforts often focus on lowering salt consumption, both through salt levels in processed food products and table-top salt added to food in the home.
In this study, the researchers wanted to explore attitudes and behavior surrounding salt consumption in Peruvian homes with the view of informing a social marketing strategy to encourage the public to reduce its salt intake.
“In Peru, determinants of dietary habits, food choices and its use, similar to other contexts, are influenced by cultural factors and traditions,” write the researchers. “For this reason, the study of people’s understanding of salt intake and health outcomes is crucial to identify the triggers of behavior change at individual and community level and ensures better design and implementation of appropriate interventions.”
Recruiting 296 individuals from both high and low socio-economic groups in Peru, the researchers found that in most cases, female family members were responsible for cooking at home. Of these, half said they were the sole decision-makers for family meal planning. For this reason, any social marketing strategy should look to target mothers with the message to reduce salt intake, the researchers suggest.
The finding echoes that of a Chilean study which found that the country's front-of-pack warning labels are having an impact on eating habits by influencing what mothers buy for their children.
Results from the survey and focus groups found that, while parents are interested in the health and welfare of their families, salt consumption is more than just a health issue as it is linked to taste and food preferences. In fact, most participants regardless of socio-economic status or sex said the main barrier to reducing salt was the perceived lack of taste.
Many Peruvians use table-top MSG
Interestingly, however, almost all the participants who said they had a low or moderate salt intake used artificial flavorings, such as Ajinomoto, a popular brand of monosodium glutamate (MSG) in Peru. This suggests that actual sodium intake may be higher than individuals believe, the researchers say.
“These findings should be a concern for government and health authorities, given that most of the participants believe they consume a moderate amount of salt,” they write.
They, therefore, suggest that any social marketing campaigns should focus on how to cook with less salt while still retaining flavor, for instance using natural seasonings such as herbs, garlic, and ginger that can add taste without increasing salt.
Available online ahead of print, doi.org/10.3390/nu12010176
Parents’ Perceptions about Salt Consumption in Urban Areas of Peru: Formative Research for a Social Marketing Strategy
Authors: S. Perez-Leon, D. Villarreal-Zegarra, D. Horna-Alva et al.