Thousands more Britons will die of cardiovascular disease and stomach cancer in the next few years due to a failed salt reduction strategy agreed between the UK government and industry, experts have warned.
In a damning study, researchers said the voluntary pact introduced under the coalition government in 2011 – known as the Public Health Responsibility Deal – has already led to people avoidably developing stomach cancer and cardiovascular disease, with hundreds dying as a result. And they warned that by 2025, more than 40,000 extra cases of disease and cancer may have occurred, with almost 9,000 deaths, unless urgent action is taken.
The team, from the University of Stirling, Imperial College London and Liverpool University, analysed the impact of the responsibility deal and the action taken before this period by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to reduce the salt content of food.
They found the deal led to a slowdown in the reduction of salt in people’s diets, which they estimate has led to an extra 9,900 cases of heart disease and stroke between 2011 and 2018, with an extra 710 deaths from these diseases. Furthermore, an extra 1,500 cases of stomach cancer are thought to have occurred over the same period, with an extra 610 deaths from this cancer.
Previous voluntary agreements between the FSA and industry to reformulate processed foods involved targets set by the agency with the threat of statutory imposition if these were not met. The 2011 deal “lacked enforcement”, the study said.
Co-author Professor Simon Capewell, from the University of Liverpool, said: “The UK Government has a stark choice – either continue its laissez-faire approach, which will kill or maim thousands more people, or reactivate the successful FSA approach, which would prevent thousands of deaths and powerfully assist the NHS and UK economy.”
The researchers said that in 2000/01, average daily dietary salt intake was 10.5g for men and 8g for women.
Between 2003 and 2010, this intake fell by 0.2g among men and by 0.12 g among women. But between 2011 and 2014, annual reductions in dietary salt intake slowed to 0.11g among men and to 0.07g among women, they said. People living in the most deprived parts of the country were most likely to be negatively affected by the change.
Graham MacGregor, chairman for Action on Salt, said the paper confirmed that the 2011 deal was “a disaster for public health”.
The Department of Health was approached for comment.