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Action on Salt

House of Commons reception

Each year CASH holds a reception at the house of commons for MPs, Peers, NGOs, Department of Health and members of the food industry. This year the event was held on Monday 21st March and was hosted by David Amess MP. The speakers were:
  • Professor Graham MacGregor, Chairman of CASH
  • David Amess MP, event sponsor
  • Anne Milton MP, Public Health Minister
  • Peter Baker, Chief Executive Men's Health Forum

You can read what they had to say below.

David Amess MP, event sponsor

Well Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to this reception to promote salt awareness week. We have a number of stands here; we’ve got two supermarkets; Morrison’s and Sainsbury’s and a third one, the Co-op [Waitrose also had a stand]. I wonder why no Tesco’s but thank you very much indeed for being here supermarkets. We’ve got the Blood Pressure Association; we’ve got the Stroke Association, Kidney Research and Lo-Salt. So thank you very much indeed for being here.

Now National salt Awareness Week, which starts today, aims to raise awareness amongst men of the dangers of eating too much salt. I would have actually thought it was to raise the awareness of eating too much full stop but for this week we’ll just talk about salt. United Kingdom research shows that more men die prematurely of cardiovascular disease, heart disease, heart failure and stroke than women with more than 90 000 men dying from it each year, a third of which were men under 75 years of age. Many of these deaths could have been prevented if we ate less salt.

Now CASH is using this week to raise awareness of the dangers of a high salt diet in men’s diets. It’s working very closely with a number of UK charities including the British Heart Foundation, The Stroke Association, Men’s Health Forum, who’s here from Men’s Health Forum, The National Osteoporosis Society, The Cancer Research UK, National Heart Forum, the Blood Pressure Association, National Obesity Forum, Kidney Research, Asthma Research, Ménière's Society and Alzheimer’s Society. So we have all these organisations working together.

And I’m delighted to say that our first speaker this afternoon is Anne Milton who is the Public Health Minister. Now Anne and I work together on the Health select committee, I knew from the start she was a rising star. She’s already on the way, she hasn’t quite reached her peak yet. But Anne, please come and address our gathering.

Anne Milton MP, Public Health Minister

David thank you very much for that, it’s possibly a career limiting move to say that to somebody like me. But I would like to say what a pleasure it is to be here and I’d like to thank CASH for inviting me to speak. I just thought I’d give you a little run down about salt.  I think it’s quite interesting if you look at it because salt has caused empires to grow and kingdoms to fall. And it’s freed us from the seasons and gifted us travel and indeed gave life to early explorers and wealth to medieval miners.  And whether extracted from the earth or harvested from the sea, salt has been the engine of wars, the builder of roads and the architect of cities. At tables of the nobility your position relative to the salt cellar conferred status or confirmed inferiority. So I won’t ask any questions about where you probably would have been positioned.

But our relationship with salt has always been a troubled one and today, as many of you will know, we’re paying the price for that relationship. As our understanding of the human body has grown so has our realisation of the dangers of overusing salt.

And the wonderful thing about being a minister is that somebody writes you speeches, which you get a chance to proof beforehand and add your own bits into, but there are always interesting facts that you didn’t know. And one of them is about an American fast food chain called Chili’s, anybody heard about this? Yes, a lady from the National Obesity Forum is nodding her head. It’s pretty unremarkable in many ways, it is a large-ish fast food chain. But it sells a product called the Jalapeno Smokehouse Ranch Burger, which has in it sixteen grams of salt, just in the one burger. We should maybe be thankful that we’re not at this stage.

And awareness is so important to raise, and so this reception is a brilliant opportunity not necessarily just to thank people for the work that they do but also to increase understanding and make sure the message gets through. I think it’s true to say that more people now know about the effect that salt will have on their health. I think the vast majority of adults are aware they should reduce the amount of salt they eat, but what we must continue to do is to press that message home. I always think it’s very interesting when if you ask people about salt they say “oh no no I’m very careful”, and you ask them how often they fill up their salt cellar on the table or in the cupboard people say “oh not very often at all”, and you say “well how often is that”, and they so “oh every other week or so” - which to me is extraordinary because in my house it probably turns into one horrid mass before we have to fill it up.

But it is important and of course men have a greater problem than women. As David said, in 2008 cardiovascular disease caused one fifth of premature deaths in men and that’s twice the rate it is in women. Data also shows that, as with so many other health problems, there are also significant inequality issues. Coronary heart disease and stroke happens much more in lower socio-economic groups and less in the highest socio-economic groups.

But as a result of action by industry, consumers and pressure groups, the UK has been successful. We’ve reduced the average daily intake by 1g to 8.6g and that’s already preventing thousands of deaths and saving the NHS 47 million pounds per year. So we should make a point of celebrating where there are successes. And certainly CASH should be proud of that achievement, having been one of the driving forces behind that reduction. But I know that many of you here today are keen to build on that and to work with the Department in a much more collaborative way. And through the Responsibility Deal dozens of organisations including suppliers, caterers, manufacturers, retailers, and NGOs including CASH have taken on the challenge to basically reduce by 1 gram the amount of salt people eat daily. And I’m pleased to note that Morrison’s and I think Waitrose are here as well, I think they got a mention, The Co-op and Sainsbury’s, some of those that are here today and were some of the first to sign up to that pledge.

And working together is absolutely vital. Not least because 75% of the salt that we eat is already in the food that we buy without even thinking about it. So apart from the salt cellar on your table, bacon, sausages, sauces etc, the kind of foods that we get at supermarkets, are all high in salt. It isn’t easy to reduce salt in some products, but it’s also not impossible, so we’re very pleased to see the steps that manufacturers are making to reduce salt. And that is just the first step; we want as many groups as possible to think what they can do to help.

And during all this the Change4Life programme will constantly be motoring away, helping people move towards making healthier choices, better choices, for themselves and their families. Not least, as I say, by eating less salt.

Whenever I get a chance to stand, actually at this podium, in this marquee, it’s always a chance for me to thank the people who’ve taken the time out of their busy schedule for coming here today but also to thank many of you in this room for all the work that you’ve done to help work with the government to make that reduction in salt a reality. I think after a reception like this, after you’ve had the wonderful cream cakes – I haven’t asked how much salt is in those, but I would like to make it clear that the caterers need to do their bit in reducing the salt intake of MPs and members of the House of Lords - but we’ve got to do our bit. And did you make a difference in coming here today? Yes you did make a difference in coming here. It’s fantastic to see so many organisations and it’s fantastic to give me the chance to thank all these people who’ve really done all that they can to make this a reality. So thank you all very much indeed. David.

David Amess MP, event sponsor

Now, my Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s myself next. The minister will be leaving during my speech, not because, well yes probably because of boredom (not at all), but she genuinely has got another appointment to go to. But there are just a few things that I wanted to share with you.

At one of my surgeries, three very large ladies came along to say David, we have a real health problem. It’s not the amount of food that we eat but it’s a psychological problem and can the health service provide us with any support? And that is the true story of how I then went in to one of our pre meetings on the health select committee and suggested that we have an enquiry into Obesity. In those days two of our ordinary members were Andy Burnam and Ivan Lewis, both, one became the secretary of state, one became a parliamentary undersecretary. And that is how the enquiry, which really was life changing in a way, for obesity, took place. Nothing at all to do with BBC Fat Nation, nothing at all to do with the supplements who promoted wearing Lycra and all of that, it was through the health select committee.

And we spent a great deal of our time taking evidence, our visit to America was hilarious because they flew executives from Pepsi and McDonalds in complete denial about the fat, sugar and salt in what we eat. To them it was just physical exercise which was the problem as far as they were concerned. But the point I’m coming to ladies and gentlemen, when we returned back we tried to get agreement between the supermarkets in terms of the traffic light system and labelling of the products we eat. The idea that all of us who shop in supermarkets grab a product, have a family meeting ‘oh look here it’s 0.5g salt’ life isn’t like that – you need a quick idea of what’s high and what’s low – but we couldn’t get agreement between the supermarkets frankly, about it, so as ever one particular supermarket who isn’t here this afternoon, went their own way and took a few with them.

I said to my colleagues at the time we’re either serious about obesity or we’re not, you can’t play at it. There’s no quick fix, you can’t – well you can take pills – but we’ve had dos here when people have spoken to us about the gastric band and all of that. It’s a long term strategy; 10, 20, 30 years. And it must be within the wit, of the people who produce food and drink, to do something about the fat, sugar and salt, in what we take in.

Now, I know that CASH have done an awful lot of work for instance on the amount of salt that’s in pies because they thought that we men were particular keen on Ginster’s pies, and pork rolls and all of that; it’s incredibly high. I had no interest in calories or sugar, fat and salt until this enquiry started. All I knew is that when I had fish and chips, I liked vinegar and I like salt. I knew only too well my critics would say you could take everything that a member of parliament says with a pinch of salt. Well this month I hope everyone will be giving up taking things with a pinch of salt as far as politicians are concerned. But I do really praise CASH for their initiative, but there is no good ladies and gentlemen, us gathering on probably the best day of the year, on the Terrace Marquee, spending two hours together, having some cream buns and cups of tea and then clearing off and forgetting about it until the next year.  We must be serious about this.

And as I was standing here, this is made my pledge. On Wednesday I’ve got question three to David Cameron and I will be, I’m spoilt for choice, but within the 1 and a half minutes you get, I shall mention Marie Curie because I was looking at their daffodils, I will mention prostate cancer because it’s their week as well and I will mention salt as well. So that is my gift to you, It’s only sort of one and a half minutes at Prime Minister’s questions but it’s soon all over the world and at least you can say that you were mentioned in the House of Commons.

So I next want to introduce Peter Baker who is the chief executive of Men’s Health Forum. He will talk about salt and men’s health from an on-the-ground perspective. I don’t quite know what that means but he’s living in the real world. OK

Peter Baker, Chief Executive Men's Health Forum

Thank you very much. I’m not sure what the on-the-ground perspective is. You can judge whether I do that by the time I’ve finished. I’m delighted to have been invited to speak to you and I’m particularly delighted that CASH has decided to make Men’s Health the theme for this year’s SAW. I mean that really is fantastic from our point of view. We’re very keen to work with charities and other organisations on a wide range of issues that affect men’s health but when another charity or another organisation decides to focus specifically on men, that’s obviously music to our ears and we’re delighted to work with them wherever we can.

One of the practical things we did with CASH for this year’s week is to work on this leaflet, and I encourage you all to have a look at it and if you do hold promotional work to distribute this to men that you’re in contact with. What it shows is a man standing in front of a mountain of salt and it says ‘It suddenly dawned on Steve that there was such a thing as too much salt’. I think this is probably the amount of salt in a Wetherspoon’s meat pie judging by the horrific figures that were produced. And I have to say, associating this campaign with pies was a brilliant strategy in terms of getting a story in the media so congratulations for doing that.

The Men’s Health Forum works across a wide range of men’s health issues, as you might imagine. And at the moment we have a particular focus on cancer, mental health, physical activity, improving men’s use of primary care and delivering better health through the workplace. Our theme for Men’s Health Week this coming June is how we can engage men in health better through the use of new digital technologies.

But underpinning everything that we do is a concern about the high levels of preventable and premature mortality in men. And the figures really are quite shocking, you’ve heard some already and I’m going to give you a couple more. 42% of men currently die before the age of 75 compared to 26% of women. If you look at premature deaths under 65, it is 22% of men compared to 12 % of women. So I think it’s fair to say that premature mortality is overwhelmingly a problem for men, and salt consumption is clearly a part of this problem. 85% of men consume too much salt. The average male consumption is 10 grams per day compared to a maximum recommended level of 6 grams. And I think it’s fair to say that generally men are unaware of the health impact of consuming too much salt, what foods they should avoid, and the amount of salt put in the food that they eat.

Now clearly to tackle this we need to reduce the amount of salt in manufactured food. That’s really the best way of achieving long-term change. But we can also influence and change men’s awareness and behaviour. All the evidence suggests from work we’ve done, and other people have done, is that it is possible to change men’s relationship with their health. The idea that men are idiots or that they will inevitably die young simply isn’t true. Men are interested in health if information is presented to them and if services are delivered to them in the right way.

We did a piece of work with the Royal Mail looking at how we could reduce the salt intake of men, of Royal Mail employees at a depot in West London. And we found through very simple interventions, really just by a very basic information awareness campaign, that we could improve very significantly men’s understanding of the dangers of eating too much salt, their awareness of the health risks and actually reduce the amount of salt that men ate. And that was done through a male-targeted campaign, aimed at men, through the workplace. So we can make a difference and I think that the campaign that CASH have launched this week will help to support that. I hope that CASH will continue to work on this issue with men, with the Men’s Health Forum, and we will do whatever we can to continue to support this. And I think that working together like this we can continue to make improvements and prevent ill health and premature mortality in men. Thank you very much indeed.

David Amess MP, event sponsor

And last but not least the gentleman really who’s pulled all this together, Professor Graham MacGregor, the Chairman of CASH. He will talk about why it’s important to lower salt intakes in the UK, he’ll give us the results of the public opinion survey on salt and men’s health, Graham.

Professor Graham MacGregor, Chairman of CASH

Thanks. Well David, Ladies and Gentlemen thanks, it’s a great pleasure to talk to you. Men, as you know, die two years before women, in fact four years before women, they have a higher salt intake – more than two grams a day more than women, and they have higher blood pressures up to the age of 70, so it’s not surprising that many more of them die from strokes, heart attacks and heart failure which are the commonest causes of death and disability in the UK. We should be doing a lot more about men and particularly salt intakes and a lot of other things as well but we wanted to focus on salt because they do eat more than women and they die unnecessarily and many of them are unaware of it.

Now it was a great surprise to me when we did a survey about what foods do men like and we obviously have on the poster here some favourite foods, curries and pizzas and so on, but pies came out as the top thing. Something I hadn’t actually realised, and you’ll have seen the survey, I don’t want to repeat it, it was in all the newspapers, but it showed that certainly in pies eaten outside, not bought in the supermarket, contain very high amounts of salt, particularly in gravy and potatoes as well. A hidden thing. You might think that salt is in the pie but not in the potatoes and you can see the results of that and the classic was the Weatherspoon one of seven and a half grams. And of course, one also wonders having a slightly conspiratorial look about things, perhaps, it might pay pubs to have a lot of salt in their foods for very obvious reasons. Why do they have all this salt in peanuts or other things and of course salt is the major drive to thirst and you drink more. And of course it’s very important to soft drink companies, beer companies and mineral companies to try and stop salt intake falling. Although I have to congratulate Pepsico, someone who are relevant here but who have turned themselves into a healthy company having been the worst offender in the world so things can change.

And we’ll hope that men’s pies and other men’s food will improve, particularly Weatherspoons who’ve already pledge to reduce the salt in all of their foods more or less overnight and it’s not the first time that it’s happened to us. And some companies and I think Weatherspoons take things fairly seriously when they are exposed to the media so media exposure is very important in terms of driving this voluntary salt reduction because without it nothing will really happen. And we know that people in the food industry would like us to all be very pleasant and nice and sympathetic but the thing that really drives it is being nice and sympathetic but at the same time exposing people who are really not playing the game.

So that was the pie survey. We’ve had a lot of media coverage already. We have a lot of National events going on, over four or five hundred which is the biggest we’ve ever had; in hospitals and GP surgeries, schools, pubs, everywhere you can name it, all sorts of things happening, which is great.

And our World Action group has more countries involved in this Salt Awareness Week than we’ve ever had before and you can see I think somewhere over there the poster we produced in Bulgarian and Spanish which is mainly for south America actually where there’s a big push now with PAHO, you’ve probably no idea what it is, I won’t explain to you what it is, but there’s a big push in South America to reduce salt.

And salt, because of the UK leading the world, is now right on the top of the agenda for the Chronic Disease Symposium in the United Nations, salt will come out as well as one of the major factors because it is the cheapest and most cost effective public health policy. It costs very little to reduce salt and has major effects on preventing strokes and heart attacks. So with that going on we intend to increase the amount of work we’re doing because we’ve had a slight hiccup with the Food Standards Agency giving up salt, taking on the Department of Health. We’re pleased to say it’s now back on track but we had to put a lot of effort into keeping it on track with the responsibility deal and I hope all members of the food industry will sign up to this and agree to the targets that were agreed some years ago anyway but we’ve re-instituted those and we need to do more worldwide. So we’re not stopping now, we’re going to work even harder to try and get salt intake down, not only in the UK, but worldwide.

I’d like to thank David very much for sponsoring us, it’s been great, and also to Anne Milton who unfortunately had to go but is a really feisty Public Health Minister and I really enjoyed our meetings with her because there’s no holds barred and that’s great. And to Peter of course, thank you very much we’re very pleased to collaborate with Men’s Health and we hope to continue that collaboration. We’re also very grateful, and I won’t name them all, all the charities that have come together to support us. All of those charities are here because salt not only is important in blood pressure but in all those other things as well which is often forgotten about. We need to remember how important it is in kidney disease, and bone disease as well, it’s not only blood pressure. I’d like to thank particularly the exhibitors and those who’ve contributed to help us just to fund this meeting. We don’t take any funds for running CASH but we do take small amounts of money from the food industry to pay for this meeting and I’d like to thank all of them, which we’ve already, I think, done. And particularly I’d like thank, of course last but not least, the organiser Katharine who runs everything, that’s why I’m so relaxed, I’ve just got back from being abroad and done nothing, you’ve done a great job, Hannah, Kay and Clare, and all the others that work with CASH. So thank you very much, and let’s do something about salt intake in men, not just in women, but also in men and let’s start today. Thank you very much.

David Amess MP, event sponsor

Right, nearly finished folks but our Chairman has said that if anyone wants to ask a question then now is the time. You don’t have to ask questions but if anyone wanted to make a – right.

Bob Michelle, CASH Member

Thank you I’m Bob Michelle and I’m one of Graham’s colleagues on CASH, and I think the emphasis on premature mortality is absolutely right but the course to disaster is set long before men are 30 years old, that’s when these dietary addictions are established. And I think for someone in their teens or twenties it’s much more horrific to think that a dietary addiction is directing them towards an avoidable cause of incapacity; when you think of the effects of an incapacitating stroke rather than death. Young men on the whole are fairly gun ho about death, they’re not that gun ho about being incapacitated and no longer able to play rugby, football, cricket, whatever it may be.

David Amess MP, event sponsor

When you’re young you think you’re immortal but if that were sort of a coded message to parents throughout the United Kingdom we politicians will have a go but we’re probably not best listened to, it’s whoever the current role models are these days. I think we’ve moved on from Jordan and Peter Andre, I don’t know who the current role models would be, but your point is well made and for what it’s worth I’ll pass it on to Michael Gove and if something can be done in the sixth forms and colleges to influence our young people that would be splendid but I do think the point is well made.

Anything else at all? Wonderful. Well look thank you again all for giving up your time this afternoon, enjoy the rest of the proceedings, do take advantage of the wonderful weather, pop outside, anyone wants a seagull there’s lots of them standing there. They make a lovely dish. So eat responsibly, drink responsibly and be merry.

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