Guest Blog: Salt – Past, Present and Future

by Beth Bradshaw | 4 March, 2019 9:00 am

Zoe Davies is an Assistant Nutritionist at Action on Salt with a BSc in Nutrition, Health and Lifestyles. Zoe has previously worked in health promotion in the community working with those with type 2 diabetes, at risk of type 2 diabetes, as well as with those seeking help with weight management. In this latest guest blog for Food Active, Zoe reflects on the progress of salt reduction in the UK and outlines the ambition for future action, to mark this years Salt Awareness Week. 

Action on Salt celebrates our 20th Salt Awareness Week on 4th – 10th March 2019. Every year since 2000, we have used this event to raise awareness of the levels of salt in food, and the effect salt has on our health. Whilst we do need some sodium in our diets, of which salt is by far the biggest contributor, we are consuming too much. A high salt diet has been shown to increase blood pressure, which in turn increases the risk of stroke and heart disease.

Current government guidelines state that we should aim to eat no more than 6g salt per day, yet we are still eating, on average, around 8g a day. The majority of the salt we eat comes from processed foods such as bread, ready meals and meals eaten from takeaways or in restaurants. We have no control over the amount of salt the food industry decides to put in our food, yet it is negatively affecting our health.

The background of salt reduction in the UK

Following the government’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition report highlighting strong evidence linking salt and high blood pressure in 2003, the Food Standard’s Agency and Action on Salt set up the UK’s salt reduction programme, which included a public awareness campaign (‘Sid the Slug’) and voluntary salt targets across processed food with added salt.
The targets were intended to be reset regularly and this initially worked well, leading to a drop in the salt content of many products by 20-40% by 2011, which was accompanied by a drop in the nation’s average salt intake from 9.5g per day in 2003 to 8.1g in 2011. Salt reduction then stalled in the UK – despite originally serving as a model for many countries worldwide – after it was placed under the Department of Health’s much-derided Public Health Responsibility Deal in 2011, which made the food industry responsible for policing their own efforts, or as it was better described, ‘putting Dracula in control of the blood bank’. Salt reduction then moved to Public Health England (PHE) in 2016.

2017 salt reduction target progress

By the end of 2017, PHE’s analysis of the 2017 targets (set in 2014) found that the food industry had not reached many of the targets set. Whilst retailers achieved 73% of their average salt reduction targets, manufacturers achieved just 37%. It is estimated that more than a quarter of adults and one fifth of children eat food outside the home at least once a week. The targets included Out of Home (OOH) meals, yet the analysis found these still higher in salt than in supermarkets, and portion sizes tended to be bigger as well.

Future of Salt Reduction

Action on Salt’s 20th Salt Awareness Week is calling for ACTION. High blood pressure is the biggest risk factor for cardiovascular disease in England and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence estimates that every 1g salt reduction could save our over-burdened NHS £1.5 billion in healthcare costs. We must act now to prevent this avoidable disease and save lives.
A new plan for salt reduction is expected in Easter 2019. Action on Salt would like to see ambitious targets for retailers, manufacturers and the out of home sector, and for these targets to become mandatory.
It is essential that the public is educated, especially as the latest Food Standards Agency biannual public attitude tracker showed concern for salt was at the lowest point since November 2010. Manufacturers and retailers must provide clear front of pack traffic light labelling, with much clearer labelling in the out of home sector, allowing consumers to choose lower salt products more easily.

In the meantime, there’s still time to get involved in Salt Awareness Week! Visit our website for resources, tips to reduce your own salt intake, ideas for running a local event or actively write to your local MP, restaurant or favourite brands.
Download our free Foodswitch app today on apple or google play to help you make healthier food choices. This award winning app allows you to scan the barcode of any food and drink to instantly see whether they are high (red), medium (orange) or low (green) in fat, saturates, sugar and salt. Not only that, it also tells you of healthier alternatives depending on whether you are looking to reduce your salt, fat, sugar or calorie intake, or looking for a general healthier choice.

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