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Salty food in spotlight as part of KFDA campaign

May 11,2010
Koreans’ penchant for salty and spicy dishes is legendary, but locals know substantially less about the serious side effects this type of food can have on health.

Enter the nation’s primary food agency, which is set to roll out a campaign aimed at alerting consumers about the sodium levels in their favorite dishes at restaurants, fast-food joints and school cafeterias.

The Korea Food and Drug Administration said yesterday it will start investigating the sodium content in meals at these establishments and launch a study to determine how the average Korean’s blood pressure is affected by sodium intake.

Food courts along local highways started disclosing how much sodium is in their offerings since March per a government mandate. The agency said it will expand the requirement to food courts in popular department and discount stores across the country beginning in June.

“Koreans’ daily sodium intake is more than twice the level recommended by the World Health Organization, and we will push ahead with the low-sodium intake campaign in earnest,” the KFDA said in a statement.

Koreans’ average sodium intake, largely derived from salt, has climbed from 4,542 milligrams in 1998 to 5,279 milligrams as of 2005, the latest figure available. That’s far higher than the 2,000 milligrams recommended by the WHO and the average intake of 3,338 milligrams in the United States and the 4,560 milligrams in Japan.

“Sodium is one of the major causes of adult diseases including high blood pressure,” the agency said. The number of Korean patients treated for high blood pressure has climbed from 3,731 in 2004 to 5,171 in 2008, while the cost to treat such ailments has risen from 39.5 billion won ($34.9 million) to 60.3 billion won during the same period.

Some local researchers have long suspected that the nation’s salty and spicy food, most notably kimchi, could play a huge role in the high diagnosis of gastric disease, which ranks as the biggest cause of death among Koreans. A team of medical researchers at Korea’s National Cancer Center recently published a study that found people who eat a lot of salty foods have a 10 percent higher chance of getting gastric cancer than those with lower sodium intake.


By Jung Ha-won [hawon@joongang.co.kr]



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