100 people will die today because guidelines on salt have yet to be implemented

7th November 2003
As the Department of Health and the Food Standards Agency prepare to host the first joint Stakeholder meeting on salt in the UK diet on Monday 10th November, Professor Graham MacGregor, of the Blood Pressure Unit at St George's Hospital and Chairman of CASH, is calling on the food industry to reduce the salt it adds to our food immediately, by 10-20%, across the board.

"Research now shows that at least 35,000 deaths from strokes and heart attacks in the UK could be prevented each year if we reduced our salt intake from the current average of 10-12g per day to the recommended 6g per day," says Professor MacGregor. "Even an immediate cut of 10% by the food industry would reduce salt intake in the whole UK population on average by 1g per day per person and save 5,800 lives over the next year - 16 people every day of the year. Are these lives not worth saving? Furthermore, there would be an approximately equal reduction in the number of individuals having a heart attack or stroke and surviving. Stroke is the leading cause of disability in the UK."

"The food manufacturers and retailers say that they cannot cut salt levels immediately because customers will not like the taste, yet numerous studies have shown that a 10-20% reduction is not detectable. ASDA, two years ago, managed an average salt reduction of 12% in all its own-label products, and is working towards a further 10% cut by the end of 2004. If they can manage this and maintain sales, why can't the other retailers and manufacturers, particularly as many of the manufacturers of ASDA's own-label foods have large brand products on the market? The time has come for the food industry to be much more accountable for what it adds to our food.

"If a train operator unwittingly causes 10 deaths in a rail crash, they are rightly held accountable. Why, when the evidence of the link between salt and blood pressure is so clear and there are now explicit and precise recommendations from both the Food Standards Agency and the Department of Health, is the food industry not held responsible for these 35,000 preventable deaths every year?

"We at CASH very much hope that the Stakeholder Meeting will result in a firm decision to reduce salt immediately by 10 to 20% in all foods where salt has been added and that a timetable is produced where further reductions will be made at defined intervals, i.e. a further 10 to 20% reduction in one year's time followed by further cuts until the target level of 6g per day for all adults is reached with proportionate reductions in children's foods as well. The major advantage of this policy is that individuals do not necessarily need to change their own diet as their salt intake will be reduced without them realising. Clearly, it would be helped by encouragement to reduce the salt that they add to their own food and in their cooking. However, this only makes up around 10 to 15% on average of our salt intake

."If the above policy were adopted and implemented, it would result in major improvements in the health of the UK population, with over 70,000 heart attacks and strokes prevented every year."

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Notes to Editors
• The Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) is a group of medical specialists who are the UK's leading experts on the effects of salt on health. Over the last eight years, CASH has been working to reduce the amount of salt in the UK diet. Excess salt in our diet is the major cause of high blood pressure, which leads to strokes, heart attacks and heart failure- the UK's greatest killers. Salt is also related to cancer of the stomach, osteoporosis, kidney disease, asthma and fluid retention.
• The Department of Health and the Food Standards Agency will host a high-level Stakeholders Meeting on Monday 10th November. Meeting attendees will include representatives from the major retailers and food manufacturers as well as groups such as CASH who are working to reduce the amount of salt in the UK diet.
• The Government's Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) published guidelines in May 2003 calling for adults to eat no more than 6g of salt per day (current intake is around 10-12g per day), and for children much less- dependent upon age. (www.sacn.gov.uk)
• Around 80% of our salt intake now comes from salt hidden in food, e.g. processed food, canteen meals, fast food and restaurant food.
N.B. - just under one third of our salt intake comes from salt added to bread and cereals.
• Already over 30% of the adult population in the UK has high blood pressure, and the proportion rapidly increases with age, i.e. 50% at 50 years, 70% at 70 years. Blood pressure is a major cause of strokes, heart failure and heart attacks.
• Research has shown that 70,000 strokes and heart attacks (over half of which- i.e. 35,000-are fatal) would be prevented if the average salt intake were reduced from the current 10 to 12 grams per day to the recommended 6g per day.
• For healthy eating, to prevent strokes, heart attacks and cancer for both children and adults the message is clear:
o Reduce salt intake in adults to less than 6 grams per day and much smaller amounts in children, depending on age.
o Eat more fresh fruit and vegetables, at least five portions a day.
o Eat less fat, particularly saturated fat.
o Eat less sugar
• Good Food tastes better with less salt.