More than a dozen of Canada's leading health organizations are appealing to the federal government to establish a set of guidelines to reduce the amount of sodium in our diet.

The letter, written on University of Calgary letterhead by Dr. Norm Campbell, a professor of medicine at the school and an expert on hypertension prevention and control, warns that Canadians consume far too much sodium each day: on average, about 3,400 milligrams.

High sodium levels in food, particularly in processed food, are the cause of nearly one-third of high blood pressure cases, the letter says. High blood pressure, or hypertension, can lead to heart disease, stroke and kidney failure, among other conditions.

The signatories say they are pleased with the Harper government's commitment to get Canadians down to 2,300 mg/day of sodium by 2016.

However, they are concerned about the government's decision not to endorse a sodium implementation report put out by both federal and provincial and territorial officials late last year, and say it signals a position that favours industry over Canadians' health.

The letter includes suggested moves to ensure the 2016 target is met, including:

  • implementing regulatory measures to reduce sodium if voluntary targets are not met.
  • the monitoring and reporting of the food industry's progress toward reaching lower-sodium targets.
  • placing restrictions on the marketing of high-sodium foods to children.
  • strengthening nutrition labelling requirements.

"As respected Canadian health organizations, we urge the Government of Canada to demonstrate its leadership and its commitment to promoting the health of Canadians by declaring a narrow time frame for taking strong and significant measures to reduce sodium content in food to acceptable levels," the letter states.

"The achievement of a coherent preventative health strategy will save both lives and dollars while sending a clear message to the people of Canada that their government cares."

The letter is signed by the heads of agencies such as the College of Family Physicians of Canada, the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, the Canadian Pharmacists Association and the Canadian Nurses Association, among others.

The signatories say that conservative estimates suggest that lowering sodium intake levels will reduce annual deaths by 14,000, cut hospitalizations due to stroke, heart attack and heart failure by 40,000 and add up to health-care cost savings of more than $1.4 billion.

They point out that 7.5 million Canadians will be diagnosed with hypertension in 2012, or 1,100 new cases each day.