Uruguay is a ‘world leader’ when it comes to its national policies on preventive health, according to Professor Luke O’Neill.
The Trinity Professor is in the Uruguayan city of Montevideo this week for a major international conference on redox biology.
On The Pat Kenny Show this morning, he said he has been struck by a number of national policies that have been in place in the South American country for years.
The first is the national attempt to get people to cut down on salt.
“About two days ago, I noticed there are no saltshakers in restaurants here,” he said. “If you go to go for a meal, there's no saltshaker at the table.
“That got our attention and it turns out they're looking after people's health in all kinds of ways.
“Salt, as you know, is a big risk factor. High salt can be very damaging to us and can cause an increase in blood pressure and there's a big policy here to lower salt intake in people, either through things like no salt sales in restaurants or guidelines on lowering salt.
“So, they're kind of leading the world now on trying to control salt intake.”
Prof O’Neill said restaurants are offered tax breaks for removing salt cellars from tables and offering salt-free options on their menus.
There is also a big push to reduce the amount of salt in processed foods – something that is also a major problem in Ireland.
Meanwhile, all municipal canteens and hospitals are banned from advertising unhealthy foods, including those that are high in salt and sugar.
They are also obliged to offer healthy salt-free options to customers.
The Trinity professor said Uruguay has also brought in strict policies around tobacco.
“They increased tax by 70% pretty quickly for example and on the tobacco packets, 80% of the box has to have health warnings,” he said.
“I guess a big one part though was Philip Morris sued the government here because they said they weren't being treated right, you know, and guess what, the government won.
“So, they've been very hard after tobacco and they think they've won that one because the rate of smoking has gone down and now salt is the next one.
“In fact, in Ireland, we could be similar if we follow guidelines with salt like we did with tobacco - we could have an equally big impact on our health status.”
Prof O’Neill noted that Uruguay is also a pioneer when it comes to its policies on cannabis and renewable energy.
He said Uruguay was the first country to legalise cannabis and its renewable energy production now accounts for 97% of its needs.