Last updated on 22 July 2008

UK salt intake levels heading in the right direction

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) today publishes research indicating a continued downward trend in the amount of salt consumed by people in the UK.

The new evidence estimates that the UK’s average daily salt consumption has fallen from 9.5g to 8.6g, and reflects an overall drop of 0.9g since the National Nutrition and Diet Survey (NDNS) in 2000-1.

There has been an encouraging decline in salt levels since the Agency began its work on salt, and this reflects the positive progress made by the food industry in reformulating products, as well as the behaviour changes of consumers, who are checking labels and adding less salt to their food.

Despite this encouraging indication, the finding highlights that more work needs to be done to meet the Government's UK average population target of 6g a day. The Agency is today launching a public consultation on proposals that will make its voluntary salt reduction targets for 2010 stricter, and set more challenging targets for 2012.

Eating too much salt is a significant risk factor in developing high blood pressure. High blood pressure can triple the risk of heart disease and stroke and reducing the daily UK salt intake to 6g could prevent an average of 20,200 premature deaths a year1 .

75% of the salt we eat is already in everyday food which is why the Agency launched voluntary salt reduction targets in 2006 to reduce salt levels in the 85 categories of food. These include everyday foods such as bread, meat products and cereals, and convenience foods like pizza, ready meals, savoury snacks and cakes and pastries. Although the targets were set to be achieved by 2010, the Agency committed to reviewing these targets in 2008 to assess progress and explore whether further reductions were needed.

The Agency's review of industry progress in salt reduction has found that although substantial advances have been made by some manufacturers and retailers to meet the 2010 targets, there is still scope for some sectors of industry to do far more. Recent surveys by Which? and CASH2, have shown there is still a wide range of salt levels in food products and this makes it even more important for consumers to check labels when choosing which foods to buy.

The Food Standards Agency Chief Executive, Tim Smith said:

'The Food Standards Agency is encouraged that action to reduce the average amount of salt we are eating on a daily basis is clearly having a positive impact. We recognise that the great steps taken by many manufacturers and retailers have contributed to this success. But while the results of the urinary analysis are positive, we are aware there is still plenty to do.'

'We have listened to the experience of industry and are aware of the food safety, consumer acceptance and technical difficulties involved in taking salt out of food. We have set targets which are challenging, long-term and have been set to drive continued progress. We look forward to continuing to work constructively with industry to achieve this goal.'

The Agency has also begun work with the large and diverse catering sector, to improve the nutritional content of food eaten out of the home. So far, the Agency has secured commitments from the UK's biggest contract caterers and suppliers and is currently extending this early positive work to major high street chains.

With the average person eating 1 in every 6 meals out of the home each week, it is likely that the catering sector will have an impact on daily salt intakes by reducing the amount of salt in the food it provides, helping to bring us closer to the 6g target.

Notes to Editors

Urinary sodium analysis
The FSA’s UK urinary sodium survey was carried out between January and May 2008. The sample for the survey was made up 692 of adults aged 19 - 64 years and was designed to be representative of the UK population. This compares with the 9.0g day estimate from the 2005/06 survey and the 9.5g from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey of adults aged 19 - 64 years from 2000/01.

Urinary sodium analysis results 2008 and 2005/6 (See related links below)
NDNS Survey results 2000/1 (See related links below)

The FSA salt campaign
The FSA’s public awareness campaign on salt launched in September 2004 as part of the Agency’s strategy to reduce population average salt intakes to 6g.

The first phase of the salt campaign featured 'Sid the Slug' and focussed on raising awareness of too much salt as a health issue. Phase 2, launched in October 2005 featured 'Talking Food' packets and raised awareness of the ‘no more than 6g a day’ message and checking labels for this information. Phase 3 in March 2007 built on this awareness, reminding consumers that 75% of the salt we eat is already in everyday foods and we should continue to check labels and choose options lower in salt.

2010 and 2012 targets
The reduction targets apply to salt levels in the 85 food categories for 2010 and the 80 food categories for 2012 that contribute most salt to our diet. These include everyday foods such as bread, meat products and cereal products, and convenience products like pizza, ready meals, savoury snacks and cakes and pastries.

The science behind the 6g
The Agency's advice on salt intake for adults and children is based on sound science, underpinned by the recommendations of the independent Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) which carried out a thorough and comprehensive risk assessment on salt and associated health outcomes.

SACN confirmed that the population as a whole would benefit from reducing their intake to 6g per day. SACN also set lower recommended maximum levels of salt intake for babies and children

Endnotes

1 Ofcom (2006) Annexe 7- Impact Assessment Consultation on Television Advertising of Food and Drink to Children. Joint FSA/DoH analysis extrapolated for the Strategy Unit (unpublished); quoted in the Cabinet Office (2008), Food Matters: Towards A Strategy for the 21st Century. Assumed salt intake reduction is 9g to 6g.
2Which? has monitored salt levels as part of their diet and nutrition surveys as have CASH (Consensus Action on Salt and Health)

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