Heart disease toll mounts from failure to cut down on salt

Experts last night said a voluntary pact with the food industry in 2011 had been a “tragedy for public health” and slowed the pace of progress made under the Food Standards Agency’s salt reduction strategy. To date, it may have been responsible for almost 10,000 cases of heart disease and stroke and 1,500 cases of stomach cancer that could have been prevented, a study has revealed. In 2000, the average daily dietary salt intake for men was 10.5g compared with 8g for women. Between 2003 and 2010, it fell by an average of 0.2g a year for men and 0.12g for women but between 2011 and 2014, that slowed to just 0.11g for men and 0.07g for women. The recommended maximum salt intake is 6g a day. Before the Government introduced its strategy – which is part of the Public Health Responsibility Deal – manufacturers were asked to cut the amount of salt in food by meeting targets set by experts.

Dr Andrew Laverty of Imperial College London conducted the research, which was published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.

He said: “There was concern that we were saying to the food industry, ‘Go away and think about how much you want to reduce salt, decide between yourselves and let us know how that goes’.

“A lot of public health people did say if you leave industry to do this without any particular reason, it’s unlikely that they’re going to.

“If something similar continues until 2025, we estimate another 26,000 cases of cardiovascular disease and 3,800 cases of stomach cancer.”

Graham MacGregor, chairman of Action on Salt, said: “We’ve long known that the Public Health Responsibility Deal was a tragedy for public health.

“It is a scandal the UK currently has no active salt reduction strategy, with the last set of targets having expired at the end of 2017.

“While the food industry has a part to play in helping consumers eat less salt, this research clearly demonstrates the need for a robustly monitored programme.”

A recent Public Health England review showed that just over half of all salt reduction targets had been met, with retailers making more progress than manufacturers.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “We are committed to people living longer, healthier lives and our progress on salt reduction is world-leading.

“Voluntary action has seen an 11 percent reduction over the last decade. We continue to work with industry to drive further progress.”

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