In September 2020, as part of the Government's new Obesity Strategy, Public Health England announced new targets for salt reduction, in a bid to encourage the food industry to play their part in tackling the country's health crisis.
The new Salt Reduction Targets have been produced for industry to achieve by 2024. These are a continuation of the existing targets initially set by the Department of Health (now Department of Health and Social Care), with roughly a 7% and 5% reduction in the average and maximum targets respectively (range from 0% to 34% reduction). An additional 8 categories have also been developed, bringing the total up to 84:
- Ready meal sides and accompaniments
- Savoury popcorn
- Sweet popcorn
- Flavoured nuts
- Chilli sauce
- Other condiments
- Pizza now split into 2 categories, pizza with cured meat toppings and pizza with all other toppings
Whilst we welcome the Governments renewed commitment to salt reduction, the targets could and should have been more challenging. Many have been watered down following initial key stakeholder discussions at the beginning of the year, particularly with regards to the out of home sector, who continue to lag behind. Many targets have also remained unchanged for some time now, some as far back as when the 2012 targets were set - this defeats the objective of setting gradual, achievable targets, and sends the wrong message to industry, where lack of progress is rewarded with less action.
Several key elements to a successful salt reduction strategy are missing from this latest announcement by Government. Targets alone will not solve our health crisis, as evident in previous failings of the salt reduction programme. A robust and comprehensive salt reduction strategy requires:
- Regular measurements of salt intake in the population
- Mandatory nutrition labelling on food and drink products
- Public awareness campaigns to inform the public and drive demand for less salt
- Regular monitoring of the food industry
With average population salt intakes remaining high, action is needed now more than ever, but without these important elements highlighted above, it is likely the Government will be setting themselves up for failure once more. To add to this, with news of Public Health England disbanding, the future of Public Health is unclear and of great concern. Who will now take on responsibility of their crucial reformulation programmes, and will known issues with these programmes, such as a lack of transparent monitoring, a lack of ambition with the targets and a lack of engagement with industry to ensure compliance, be addressed in the shuffle? While a consultation has been promised, the lack of information provided on the future of all of PHE’s vital work is very concerning.