Food manufacturers’ salt cuts ‘have saved lives’

Efforts to reduce salt intake pay off with heart disease and stroke deaths down 40%

Health Reporter

Cuts to salt levels in our diet are likely to have contributed to huge reductions in the number of deaths caused by heart attacks and strokes over the past decade, doctors have said.

In new evidence of the harmful impact of salt in modern diets, and the benefits of cutting back, nutritionists compared data on people’s daily intake since 2003 with striking public health figures which show a 40 per cent drop in mortality connected with heart disease and stroke over the same time period in England.

Between 2003 and 2011, daily salt intake dropped by 15 per cent, according to data from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey. The drop is likely to have been largely driven by cuts to the amount of salt that food manufacturers put in their products, as part of wide-reaching public health campaigns which launched throughout the UK in 2003.

Breads and cereals, which account for around a quarter of our daily salt intake between them, have seen cuts of around 30 per cent and 50 per cent respectively, while manufacturers of pasta sauces, biscuits and crisps have also cut back, following a widely-publicised reduction strategy introduced by the Food Standards Agency, in response to campaigning by public health experts.

According to a new study by experts at Queen Mary, University of London, daily salt intake has fallen by on average 1.4g between 2003 and 2011 and the Food Standards Agency estimates that more than 11 million kilograms of salt have been removed from foods in the UK.

However our consumption remains high at approximately 8.1 – 8.8g per day, leading the FSAs in all four UK nations to set new standards to cut salt levels even further to achieve average intake of 6g per day by 2017.

The new study, published in the online medical journal BMJ Open today used several sets of data, involving different cohorts of people, so cannot conclusively prove the impact of salt reduction on heart disease rates, but the authors said that it was nevertheless likely it would have been “an important contributor” alongside other factors such as reductions in the number of smokers, and intake of saturated fats.

Salt is known to increase blood pressure, which in turn is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

Professor Graham MacGregor, of the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine at Queen Mary, University of London said that it was “absolutely clear” that salt had contributed to a fall in recorded blood pressure rates, and therefore helped save lives.

The drive to reduce salt levels has been spearheaded by Professor MacGregor’s campaign group of doctors and nutritionists under the banner Consensus on Salt and Health.

Many of the same experts are now leading efforts to force the food industry to cut the levels of sugar in food, as part of the campaign group Action on Sugar.

“We have absolutely no nutritional need to eat sugar or salt,” Professor MacGregor told The Independent. “Salt directly puts up your blood pressure, it is a major cause of death through that.”

“Sugar is merely an unnecessary source of calories… The best way to deal with obesity is to get your calorie intake down, particularly in ultra-processed fast foods, which give no feeling of satiation and are marketed to children. In some ways, I think it’s remarkable we’re not all obese, given what the food industry is doing to us.”

Victoria Taylor, senior dietician at the British Heart Foundation, said: “While the reductions in average intakes of salt are a positive change, we mustn't forget that they are still well above the recommended maximum of 6g a day for adults.

“As most of the salt we eat is already in our food, it is important that the food industry now works towards meeting the new salt reduction targets to make sure that we can continue to reduce the salt in our diet.”

Professor MacGregor said that the reductions in blood pressure rates caused by lower salt intake since 2003 would have been responsible for saving around 9,000 lives per year by 2011, and 18,000 incidents of heart disease or stroke.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

    Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: You will also work alongside their seasoned sa...

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Property Manager

    £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you looking for your first step into...

    Recruitment Genius: Mechanical Design Engineer

    £25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This innovative company working...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
    How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
    11 best bedside tables

    11 best bedside tables

    It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
    Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

    Italy vs England player ratings

    Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
    Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

    Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat