Cities and NCDs: Curbing excess salt consumption in Ouagadougou

A meal in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Photo by: Carsten ten Brink / CC BY-NC-ND

MANILA — In 2016, data from the Yalgado-Ouedraogo Teaching Hospital in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, revealed some startling results: Approximately 63 percent of hospitalizations that year were related to cerebral-vascular accidents, more commonly known as strokes. The death rate was 11.5 percent.

The culprit, according to specialists, was poor dietary and health practices, improper lifestyle as well as lack of proper health education, driven largely by people’s changing lifestyle in the city, said Ouagadougou Mayor Armand Béouindé.

Apart from tobacco usage, people are consuming excessive amounts of alcohol and sugary drinks, as well as fast food containing a high salt and fat content — all of which is changing the city’s epidemiological profile.

“This fact is connected to the lifestyle characterized with respect to the occupation of those living in the city, being out of the home the whole day,” said the local leader. “People are then forced to eat in restaurants that afford them this possibility. Almost 70 percent of people working in the city of Ouagadougou avail themselves of these kinds of [fast food] restaurants.”

To counter the growing burden of noncommunicable diseases, Béouindé said the local government has been working with civil society organizations, to raise awareness regarding NCDs prevention. The Office for Athletics sponsors aerobic sessions twice a week that are free and open to the public. The city also organizes running or bike marathons throughout the city.

But they could use more assistance.

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Late last year, the city took part in Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Partnership for Healthy Cities to add more layers into the city’s initiatives. One of the chief attractions was the ability to connect with mayors from other cities and, in the process, pick up lessons in the battle against NCDs.

Since joining, the city of Ouagadougou has put in a monitoring system for food sold in schools. Their long-term goal is to have a monitoring center for dietary health and beverages in the city. They also plan to monitor food labeling in restaurants and remove the sale of food products that could increase students’ risks for NCDs.

But the fight is not limited to outside people’s homes.

“There are also the drinks and food prepared at home that have a high sugar and salt content,” said Béouindé. Increasing taxes on industrial beverages with high sugar content and industrial foods with high salt content “might be a solution,” he added. “But it might be more sensible to carry out extensive policies emphasizing information about the dangers linked to heavy consumption of salt and sugar, on the one hand and, on the other hand, about recommended standards for consumption,” Béouindé said, emphasizing the importance of contextualizing the NCD problem.

Individuals should consume no more than 5 grams of salt daily, according to World Health Organization recommendations. High sodium consumption contributes to high blood pressure and increases people’s risks of suffering heart disease and stroke. But a national survey on iodine and anemia in Burkina Faso in 2014 revealed that in the city of Ouagadougou, the daily average salt consumption ranged from as low as 4.1 grams to as high as 12.6 grams in some households, leading to an average of 7 grams per day.

Changing people’s eating habits outside and inside their homes will be the challenge for the city of Ouagadougou. And Béouindé, in particular, knows it’s going to be a long process.

This is part of a miniseries on how cities are tackling NCDs in the line up to the third United Nations high-level meeting on NCDs. The cities featured here are all part of Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Partnership for Healthy Cities.

For more coverage of NCDs, visit the Taking the Pulse series here.

About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.

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