The law, which may be implemented within six months, would restrict the amount of trans-fatty acid in food to a maximum of 5%, according to media reports. Restrictions on salt content will be finalised after a UAE-wide study is completed, but the Ministry’s broad aim is to reduce dietary salt levels by 10% a year, to bring consumption down to 5g per person per day, in line with World Health Organisation targets.
The announcement came at a workshop titled “Partnering to improve UAE health”, held in Dubai earlier this month. The workshop was organised by the Ministry of Health, UAE University and the International Food & Beverage Alliance, an industry body focused on nutrition and health issues.
Public health issue
The UAE’s move follows similar efforts in other GCC countries to cut salt consumption. In Kuwait, government officials worked with bakeries to cut the amount of salt in bread, in order to reduce Kuwaiti residents’ 12-15g per day salt consumption levels. Qatar and Bahrain are also working on similar programmes to reduce dietary salt.
Figures for salt intake in the UAE vary: one UAE University study cited at the workshop showed a small sample of UAE residents consumed up to 6.75g of salt per day. Another small study from the university suggested consumption was around 6.08g per day, with 53% of study participants adding extra salt to their food.
Increasing pressure has been put on food producers and government authorities in the UAE to cut levels of salt and fat in foods, with high levels of consumption being linked to a number of health issues. Recent studies suggest that the average age for heart attack victims in the UAE is 45, compared to 65 globally; while 50% of stroke victims in the country are 45 or under, while 80% victims in western countries are between 65 and 85.
Emirati foods also to blame
Along with high levels of salt and fat in packaged foods, researchers have also pointed to traditional Gulf cuisine as an important element in salt and fat consumption. Preparation of many traditional Emirati and Gulf Arab foods requires large quantities of salt and fat – and large numbers of GCC nationals consume these foods on a regular basis.
A UAE University study, published in the October issue of the Emirates Journal of Food and Agriculture, surveyed 304 Emirati, GCC and other Arab students at the university. The study revealed 50% of male participants and 44% of female participants consumed traditional Emirati foods three to four times a week or more.
The study also suggested many people regard these types of food as healthy, with 69% of women and 47% of men agreeing with a statement to that effect, while only 10% of women and 18% of men disagreed. This was despite both men (48%) and women (63%) identifying Emirati food as being high in fat.
“This high frequency for consumption was due to the taste of the traditional foods, as well as a belief on the part of both genders that these foods are healthy options in terms of their nutritional quality. Conversely, the majority of subjects considered the traditional foods to be high in fat,” said the report.
“Interestingly, subjects from the current study did not consider reducing salt content in traditional foods would improve the nutritional value of the diet,” it added.