Government called on to reduce salt levels across food industry

Credit: Sunny Forest

Action on Salt is calling on Government to step up action and reduce salt levels across the food industry following new research.

A new meta-analysis from international researchers – including the Wolfson Institute, Queen Mary University of London and Action on Salt – provides new and compelling evidence to support salt reduction as a key public health strategy.

The analysis included 133 randomised trials with 12,197 individuals looking at the effect of salt reduction on blood pressure and showed that salt reduction lowered blood pressure across the whole population, including those with blood pressure within normal ranges.

The findings indicate that population-wide reduction in salt intake should lower population blood pressure which in itself will cause a large reduction in strokes and heart disease and, at the same time, it is likely to prevent people from developing high blood pressure as they get older.

A second review, meanwhile, offers the most comprehensive review to date of all types of research conducted on salt and health.

This review looked at almost 200 published studies and covers not only the mechanisms whereby salt puts up blood pressure, but also other potential mechanisms by which salt can damage our health, including the immune response, gut microbiome, damage to small vessels and brain leading to dementia.

It also highlights the cost-effectiveness of salt reduction and the benefits to health, which are similar to tobacco reduction or prevention of obesity.

“Salt-reduction efforts should be reinforced in the UK and worldwide to save millions of people suffering and dying unnecessarily from strokes and heart disease each year,” said Professor Feng He, lead author of the review and researcher at Queen Mary University of London.

Up to 2011, the UK salt reduction programme, under the Food Standards Agency (FSA), led the world and had already saved 18,000 strokes and heart attacks per year – with £1.5 billion a year in NHS healthcare saving costs, according to NICE.

In 2016, Public Health England assumed responsibility for UK salt reduction, and earlier this month, announced a new set of draft voluntary salt targets.

However, setting targets without enforcement is unlikely to work – as demonstrated by the failed Responsibility Deal and the lack of progress made by the food industry on the previous set of targets.

Instead, what is required is a clear and transparent monitoring programme, says Action on Salt, to include annual progress reports and strong engagement with the whole sector, along with case studies of successful reformulation to aid industry-wide reformulation.

Stronger engagement with the Out of Home sector is also a must in order to create a level playing field, says Action on Salt.

The new progressive government must now learn from the failings of previous governments and either empower PHE to act or better still, set up an independent nutrition agency modelled on the previous FSA, it said.