Government advertising campaign will highlight threat to public health

Bread and breakfast cereals contain levels of salt that are high enough to damage health, the Government will warn in an advertising campaign that starts today.

In a poll of shoppers, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) found that 77 per cent of people were unaware that bread and cereals contributed more salt to the diet than other popular foods – including crisps and nuts.

Excess salt raises blood pressure, which in turn can cause heart attacks and strokes. The FSA, the Government's food watchdog, estimates 16,000 lives and billions of pounds could be saved every year if adults ate no more than 6g of salt a day.

Around 35 per cent of the salt we consume comes from grain-based products such as breakfast cereals and bread. A 30g serving of Kellogg's Rice Krispies contains 0.7g salt, equivalent to the amount found in a packet and a half of crisps, while Warburtons Our Thickest Slice bread contains 0.62g per slice, meaning that four slices would be equivalent to five packets of crisps.

After grain-based products, meat is the next biggest source of salt in the average diet, contributing 26 per cent, followed by 8 per cent from milk and dairy products.

When the FSA asked the public to pick the top three sources from a list of the 10 foods that contribute the most salt to our diets, only 13 per cent of people mentioned bread, while 12 per cent said breakfast cereals.

As it launched a new advertising campaign on TV, radio and in print to highlight the amounts of salt in both products, the FSA pointed out that because supermarkets have cut more salt than branded foods, store own-brand and value lines are now often better for consumers than those from companies such as Kellogg's or Warburtons.

Rosemary Hignett, the FSA's head of nutrition, said: "We're not suggesting people stop eating or even cut down on bread or breakfast cereals, as they are important part of a healthy diet. But we are saying take a look at the labels to find those products that are lower in salt. This could be a supermarket own-label product, or maybe one from the 'value' range."

High blood pressure triples the risk of heart disease and stroke, and doubles the chance of dying from these diseases. The average Briton now consumes 8.6g of salt a day, 0.9g less than in 2004 when the FSA launched its Sid the Slug TV salt campaign. The FSA estimated that the fall had prevented 6,000 premature deaths and saved the economy £1.5bn a year. The Association of Breakfast Cereal Manufacturers confirmed that its members had reduced salt levels by 44 per cent since 1998.

Paul Wheeler, a spokesman for Kellogg's, said: "A bowl of Rice Krispies gives you less than a tenth of your daily allowance of salt, and over the next couple of months we'll reduce that by a further 20 per cent. We've been reducing salt in our cereals, by a total of 40 per cent, for the last 10 years – that's why we're disappointed to be singled out in this campaign."

Gordon Polson, director of the Federation of Bakers, said: "The foods that contribute the most salt to our diets do not necessarily have to have the highest salt content, but can just be the ones that we eat the most often."