WASH Comment: The variability of reported salt levels in fast foods across six countries: opportunities for salt reduction

E Dunford, J Webster, M Woodward, S Czernichow, W Lun Yuan, K Jenner, C Ni Mhurchu,  M Jacobson, N Campbell, B Neal
CMAJ 2012. DOI:10.1503/cmaj.111895

17 April 2012.  This study looked at fast-food menus of Burger King, Domino’s Pizza, Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and Subway in Australia, Canada, France, New Zealand, the UK and the U.S, and found that the same items had dramatically different salt levels in different countries.  In general, the U.S. had the saltiest food, followed closely by Canada, while the UK and France had relatively less.  

This reflects the fact that salt has been a focus for public health in the UK for several years.  Voluntary targets were set in 2010 for different food categories to be achieved by the end of 2012, however Andrew Lansley and the Department of Health have been unable to persuade the major fast food companies to sign the salt pledge.  Whilst all the major retailers and food manufacturers in the UK have agreed to meet the targets, of those included in t his survey, only Subway has committed to the salt pledge.  As such, many fast food chains as well as smaller independent fast food restaurants are still putting their customers’ health at risk.  

Katharine Jenner, Campaign Director for World Action on Salt and Health (WASH), and co-author says; “This study shows that major food companies such as McDonalds and Pizza Hut distribute products with much less salt in some, but not all, countries, which raises serious ethical concerns. It is clear that salt reduction in fast food products has already happened in some countries, if this were done in ALL countries it would save millions of lives, but the global food brands still seem reluctant to provide their healthiest products to everybody.”

Dr Norm Campbell, Dr. Norm Campbell, from the University of Calgary, and co-author commented “The big issue here is not the companies, the big issue is the governments. A 'structured, voluntary approach' where the government works with industry to set lower salt targets is the most feasible.”

Eating less salt lowers blood pressure, leading to lower rates of heart disease, heart attacks and stroke – the biggest global killers. The WHO has already listed salt reduction as one of its top 10 "best buys", along with tobacco reduction, for improving global health.

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