26 May 2023 Guest Blog: Ditch the salt for the sake of our health
In our latest guest blog, we hear from Sonia Pombo,Campaign Lead for Action on Salt and Research Fellow, to reflect back on the theme and key activities around Salt Awareness Week which took place last week.
This year we celebrated Salt Awareness Week later than usual, in May. On reflection, it makes perfect sense – May is home to a number of important public health campaigns, all of which are intrinsically linked to salt reduction. There is May Measurement Month, which aims to get people measuring their blood pressure and taking proactive steps to reduce it, and Stroke Awareness Month. Both address two very important health messages, and bring to light the importance of prevention for improved public health. Reducing population salt intakes can help with just that!
High blood pressure is the leading cause of stroke and heart attacks, two life threatening and debilitating conditions. They are also extremely common, the cause of 1 in 4 deaths in the UK[i]. Most cases are entirely preventable, and so it’s vital we all take measures to improve our health and prevent these events from happening in the first place. Decades of consistent, high-quality research has linked excessive salt intake to raised blood pressure[ii], and reducing the salt in our diet has been shown to be one of the quickest and most effective ways to improve our health[iii].
With just 1 less ‘pinch’ a day we could save over 6,000 lives every year in the UK[iv]. But how can we cut back on our salt, when everything we buy is full of it? From everyday staples to indulgent treats, everything has added salt. In fact, more than 75% of the salt we eat is already in the foods we buy, and it’s impossible to take it out once it’s been added in.
Take for example, pizza. Our supermarket shelves are lined with rows upon rows of them (with irresistible deals and promotions to boot) and they are a go to takeaway option for many. They are also one of the top contributors of salt to our diet[v]. It’s no surprise they aren’t the healthiest of meal choices, but just how much salt do they all pack, and can they be better?
Our new report[vi] for Salt Awareness Week surveyed >1,300 pizzas sold in supermarkets, restaurants and takeaways and found 1 in 2 pizzas provide a days’ worth (6g) or more salt per pizza, with the highest containing >21g! That’s more salt than you should eat in 3 DAYS, let alone one meal.
Restaurants and takeaways are particularly concerning, with many failing to follow the salt reduction guidelines and in some cases ignoring them completely and increasing the salt content.
Thankfully some retailers and manufacturers have acted responsibly – one leading company in particular has reduced their salt by as much 29% over the last decade and now produces some of the lowest salt pizzas on the market. This demonstrates to the world that it is possible to reduce salt. But is it fair that some responsible businesses invest time and money doing the right thing, whilst others do nothing and get away with it?
We need food companies – all of them – to accept the role they play in our health, and Ditch the Salt. Salt reduction is a simple, cost-effective public health strategy that would benefit not only our health, but the NHS, the economy and the environment, as highlighted in our policy report published last week[vii]. We need bold, decisive action and leadership from government to show us they are serious about protecting our health. The current ‘do nothing approach’ just simply isn’t cutting it.
Whilst the campaign week might be over, our battle with salt reduction continues. There is still a long road ahead but we will continue highlighting the unnecessary amounts of salt being added to our foods, and working with food companies to do their bit for society and Ditch the Salt, one less pinch at a time.
[i] Roth GA, Mensah GA, Johnson CO, Addolorato G, Ammirati E, Baddour LM, et al. Global Burden of Cardiovascular Diseases and Risk Factors, 1990–2019: Update From the GBD 2019 Study. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2020 Dec 22;76(25):2982–3021
[ii] Ma Y, He FJ, Sun Q, Yuan C, Kieneker LM, Curhan GC, et al. 24-Hour Urinary Sodium and Potassium Excretion and Cardiovascular Risk. N Engl J Med. 2022 Jan 20;386(3):252–63
[iii] World Health Organisation Global Report on Sodium Intake Reduction. March 2023. https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789240069985
[iv] Department of Health. Salt reduction – onwards and downwards! https://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20180201175801/https://responsibilitydeal.dh.gov.uk/salt-reduction-onwards-and-downwards
[v] Public Health England. Salt Targets 2017: Progress report. Table 4 lists the food categories that contribute the most to our salt intakes. Pizza is 5th. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/salt-targets-2017-progress-report
[vi] Action on Salt Report on the Nutritional Quality of Pizzas Sold in the UK https://www.actiononsalt.org.uk/salt-surveys/2023/salt-awareness-week-pizza/#d.en.1051307
[vii] Action on Salt. Salt Reduction: Benefiting our Health, Economy, Workforce and Environment https://www.actiononsalt.org.uk/awareness/salt-awareness-week-2023/policy/