'Outlaw high salt in processed food'
CUTTING the levels of salt in people's diets will save lives and public money – but action must be taken now, experts have warned.
Targets have been set globally in efforts to reduce salt intake, including the aim of cutting consumption in the UK from just under 9g a day to 6g in an effort to reduce deaths from stroke and heart disease.
But experts writing in the British Medical Journal said that policy makers and governments needed to decide now how best to tackle a high intake of salt, including setting limits on the salt content in processed foods.
The food industry said huge progress had already been made in cutting salt levels in their products.
Speaking ahead of a United Nations meeting on non-communicable diseases, Professor Francesco Cappuccio and colleagues argued that lowering dietary salt intake had the potential to substantially reduce levels of stroke and heart disease and save millions of lives globally.
They also pointed to studies which show that reducing salt intake cuts costs, such as by reducing hospital admissions. Previous figures have estimated that a 3g reduction in salt intake per day would prevent up to 8,000 stroke deaths and up to 12,000 coronary heart disease deaths per year in the UK.
Prof Cappuccio, from the University of Warwick, added that trying to change personal behaviour and choice alone was "not an effective or realistic option when the majority of salt is added to food before it is sold, and food marketing relies on taste".
The researchers suggested salt levels could be targeted by raising public awareness of the issue and monitoring key measures of salt intake, along with reformulating processed foods to reduce the amount of salt used.
They also called for regulation of the food industry.
The experts said in their report: "The huge responsibility of food manufacturers in contributing to the epidemic of cardiovascular disease must be acknowledged, and prevention implemented through food reformulation and effective, voluntary market intervention, or mandatory action throughout the industry.
"Civil society, governments, academia, and health organisations all have a part to play. Denial and procrastination will be costly in terms of both avoidable illness and expenses."
Terry Jones, from the Food and Drink Federation, said: "The food and drink manufacturing industry is now widely recognised as leading the world when it comes to reformulating products to be lower in salt.
"Recent research looking at approximately 28,000 branded products found that our members have collectively reduced the amount of salt in their foods by 9 per cent across the board to an average of 0.31g per 100g of product in the past five years."
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