CASH urges the government to step up salt reduction efforts to save lives

21st June 2012

• Salt intakes have fallen in adults from 9.5g to 8.1 g per day – but we are still a long way from the 6g a day target
• Salt reduction programme is saving approx 8,500 lives every year
• Inaction from restaurants, takeaways and cafes, as well as the Department of Health, are to blame for slow progress
• CASH calls for much stronger input from the Government to continue to lead the world in salt reduction

The Department of Health [Ref 1] today announced that, since the start of the UK’s salt reduction policy ten years ago, salt intake has fallen in adults from 9.5g to 8.1 g per day, i.e. approximately 1.5 g per person, per day.  This is now the lowest salt intake of any developed country in the world. Studies suggest that this reduction in average daily salt intake, through the reduction it has on blood pressure, will prevent approximately 20,000 strokes, heart attacks and heart failure, 8,500 of which are fatal, in the UK every year.  This provides huge cost savings to the NHS.  If we achieved the 6g target, an estimated 17,000 lives a year would be saved [Ref 2].   

Graham MacGregor, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the Wolfson Institute and Chairman of Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) comments:  “This one and a half gram reduction in salt intake shows progress is happening, but there is still a very long way to go.  Our salt intakes have come down thanks to a clear set of voluntary salt targets that were developed by CASH and the Food Standards Agency, which have largely been achieved by the responsible food manufacturers [Ref 3].

“Unfortunately, the catering industry (restaurants, cafes, takeaways etc), against our advice, have largely been ignored by the salt reduction programme. We urge catering companies to reduce the unnecessarily high amount of salt they add to our food. Furthermore, the Department of Health has failed to set further salt targets for the whole of the food industry.  This is essential for the success of the programme as it provides a ‘level playing field’, whereby all food companies make gradual reductions in line with each other.

“The aim must be to get salt intake to below the maximum recommended intake of 6g per day in order to save the maximum number of lives.  This requires the whole food industry to recognise the importance of salt reduction”

Katharine Jenner, Campaign Director of CASH comments:  “We would like to congratulate those companies who have made reductions in the amount of salt they add to our food. However it is not surprising we are still eating much more than the recommended 6g salt a day (men 9.3g a day, women 6.8g a day). If you eat out, you could find you are still consuming huge amounts of salt. For instance, a breakfast egg and bacon roll, steak pie for lunch, a snack of a blueberry muffin and pepperoni pizza for dinner could add up to over 13g when eating out, compared to just over 5g when bought from a supermarket [Table 1].

“The lack of clear labelling is still is a massive problem for consumers who do want to lower their salt intake.  There are huge variations of salt in our food; however without nutritional information for salt on restaurant and fast food menus, it is impossible to make a healthy choice.  The Department of Health needs to take much more action on salt reduction, the single most cost-effective public health policy.”

Table 1 [Ref 4]. To illustrate, CASH have some examples of what someone might eat in a day, showing the differences in restaurants compared to supermarkets.

MealRestaurant ExampleSalt/ portion (g)Supermarket ExampleSalt/ portion (g)Difference in  salt content
Breakfast  SandwichWetherspoons Breakfast Rolla4.6gMorrisons Egg & Bacon sandwicha2.2g2.4g
Lunch piePunch Taverns Steak & Ale Pieb3.5gSainsbury’s Taste The Difference Steak Piea0.55g2.95g
Snack  MuffinMcDonalds Low Fat Blueberry  Muffinc1.7gSainsbury’s Blueberry Muffina0.57g1.13g
Dinner PizzaTops Pizza Pepperoni Pizzad3.7gMorrisons Kitchen Deep Pan Pepperonib2g1.7g


Ref 1 –
• The mean estimated salt intake, derived from urinary sodium excretion, for adults aged 19 to 64 years was 8.1g per day, with men having a mean estimated intake of 9.3g per day and women having a mean estimated intake of 6.8g per day
• Overall, 70% of participants had a daily intake of salt higher than the recommended maximum of no more than 6g per day; 80% of men and 58% of women exceeded this recommendation

Ref 2 He FJ & MacGregor GA. How Far Should Salt be Reduced? Hypertension (2003) 42: 1093-1099.

Ref 3 - The salt pledge as part of the Department of Health’s Responsibility Deal states
“We commit to the salt targets for the end of 2012 agreed by the Responsibility Deal, which collectively will deliver a further 15 per cent reduction on 2010 targets. For some products this will require acceptable technical solutions which we are working to achieve. These targets will give a total salt reduction of nearly 1g per person per day compared to 2007 levels in food. We recognise that achieving the public health goal of consuming no more than 6g of salt per person per day will necessitate action across the whole industry, Government, NGOs and individuals.”

Ref4 - Food product examples
a - Data collected from company websites on 20th June 2012
b – CASH Pie survey, March 2011 

c – CASH Coffee Survey, October 2011 
d – CASH Pizza Survey, March 2012