Consumers want the food industry to take responsibility for the hidden salt that kills thousands each year

28th January 

Melanie Johnson, Minister for Public Health, Deirdre Hutton, Chair of the National Consumer Council and Sir John Krebs, Chair of the Food Standards Agency, will speak alongside Professor Graham MacGregor, Chair of CASH, at the charity's 5th annual National Salt Awareness Day. The event at the House of Commons comes one month before the Government's February 27th deadline for submissions from the food industry detailing how it plans to cut the high level of salt added to the UK's food.

CASH research* shows that people know that salt affects their health, but 85% find current salt labelling incomprehensible. The vast majority (76%) (i.e. 70% of MPs, 72% of consumers and 95% of health professionals surveyed) think the food industry must take the lead in reducing the UK's current high salt intake.

Some manufacturers have already made plans to reduce the salt content of some of their foods and many retailers have taken steps to reduce the amount of salt in their own-label products, but much more action will be needed if we are to reach the recommended level of 6g per day for adults and much less for children.

"We are pleased that food manufacturers and retailers are taking steps to reduce the level of salt they add to our food. But we must not forget that 35,000 people die each year in the UK as a result of a high salt intake. The problem is that most people cannot tell how much salt they are eating because it is added to their food without their consent, and the true salt content is disguised by confusing and misleading labelling," said Professor MacGregor. "The food manufacturers are the ones who put the salt in our food - they must take responsibility for reducing our intake.

"Education campaigns serve to highlight the need to reduce salt, but ultimately these can only be effective when the industry reduces the salt content of all our food."

Kathy Lewis, Registered Nutritionist for CASH added: "The food industry claims that it is necessary to add salt to our food and that consumers demand it. This is not the case. The facts are that consumers don't realise the high salt content, don't want to die unnecessarily and that much of the salt could easily be removed without affecting food composition or safety. Food manufacturers can easily make the kind of reductions we are calling for: 10-15% annually, repeated over several years. Consumers did not ask manufacturers to add so much salt and given the choice I doubt they would have!"

A high salt intake is known to be responsible for thousands of deaths from stroke and heart attacks each year. Recent research showed that as many as 35,000 lives could be saved each year if our salt intake was reduced from the current average of 12g a day to the recommended 6g a day. A high salt diet has also recently been linked with a raised risk of developing stomach cancer, kidney disease, osteoporosis and asthma.

Media Coverage

It was a very successful day which gained considerable media attention. There was coverage in nine national papers including the Daily Mail, Daily Star and Express. BBC online, teletext and Netdoctor news also highlighted the day. Shelia Dillon from the radio 4 Food Programme attended the event at the House of Commons, along with Sue Saville from ITV news and some other magazines. 41 local papers including the South Nottinghamshire Advertiser, Dukeries, Eastern Daily Press, South Wales Echo city, Manchester Evening News and Newark Advertiser all highlighted the day. There was 46 radio broadcasts across various local radio stations and 18 interviews with Professor Graham Macgregor. Total circulation and audience reached was 10,575,386.

Notes to editors

  • CASH surveyed a total of 91 people - 33 MPs, 19 Health Professionals and 39 members of the general public during December 2003. For further details, please call one of the numbers below.
    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, dementia, kidney disease, asthma and fluid retention.
  • 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.
  • 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 the major cause of strokes, heart failure and heart attacks.
  • For healthy eating, to prevent strokes, heart attacks and cancer for both children and adults the message is clear:
    - Reduce salt intake in adults to less than 6 grams per day and much smaller amounts in children, depending on age.
    - Eat more fresh fruit and vegetables, at least five portions a day.
    - Eat less fat, particularly saturated fat.
    - Eat less sugar