Assessment of Sodium Levels of Processed and Packaged Food Products from Selected Supermarkets in Nairobi and Kiambu Counties, Kenya
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Excessive intake of sodium can lead to serious health problems and complications overtime. Of special interest is high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart diseases and stroke. This is attributed to the massive intake of ultra-processed foods that possess high energy, fats and above all added salts. This study presents an assessment of sodium content in a selection of food groups as reported on the nutrient information panels and compared with the international standards, notably, the United Kingdom food standard agency (UKFSA) 2017 salt benchmark targets. A cross sectional research design was employed in carrying out this study. Purposive sampling technique was used in selection of five suitable supermarkets stores in Nairobi and Kiambu counties. Supermarkets with more branches that translated to a bigger market share, wider aisles and distributed across the low, middle and high-income residential areas of both counties were suitable. Similarly, four food groups (sauces and spreads, meat products, snack foods and cereal products) basing from other related studies were also selected purposively. The data was collected using FoodSwitch data collector mobile app developed by The George Institute for Global Health, Australia. The app was used to scan the product bar code and captured images of the front and back of the package, product name, ingredients details, manufacturer, brand name and the nutritional information. These images were uploaded into a cloud-based content management system, from where label information could be coded into a database. The study sample was later obtained by applying stratified random sampling technique where the database population was sub-divided into various food groups/strata and a random sub-sample from each selected food group obtained. This was then pooled to make up the required sample of 422 food products. The data was then extracted and exported into SPSS Version 23. Descriptive statistics including the average sodium content together with their standard deviations were computed at each food group as well as their respective food categories. To test for significance differences in average sodium content, the One-way ANOVA was applied followed by Games-Howell Post Hoc Tests. Statistical significance was set at p<0.05. The study found that sauces and spreads had the highest level of sodium content with 1919.81mg/100g, followed by meat products, snack foods and finally cereal products (567.03mg/100g, 551.29mg/100g and 276.10mg/100g respectively). There was a statistically significant differences in the mean sodium content between the four food groups as determined by One-Way ANOVA, [F (3,418) =32.87, P<0.001]. Games-Howell post hoc test revealed that the level of sodium was significantly higher in sauces and spreads (1919.81±2426.91mg/100g, P<0.001) compared to snack foods (551.29±342.75mg/100, P<0.001), cereal products (276.01± 357.04mg/100g, P<0.001) as well as meat products (567.03±403.95mg/100g, P<0.001). In the same way, snack foods had significantly higher levels of sodium than cereal products, (P<0.001). However, there was no statistically significant difference in sodium levels between snack foods and meat products (P=0.995). Overall, 36% of the products that were assessed across the four food groups had sodium levels that exceeded the UKFSA 2017 maximum salt benchmark targets, with all the food groups exhibiting wide ranges between the products with the most and the least sodium content. Frequent monitoring of these food groups and their respective categories by regulatory bodies is of extreme importance in enhancement of consumer safety. Moreover, there is a high potential of reducing sodium levels in most processed foods in Kenya as evidenced by variation of sodium content within the four food groups.