It found that England’s salt reduction programme will have led to nearly 200,000 fewer adults developing heart disease and £1.64bn of healthcare cost savings by 2050.
However, these gains could be put at risk if the Government continued its recent weak support for the programme, it warned.
Graham MacGregor, professor of cardiovascular medicine at Queen Mary University of London and chairman of Action on Salt, said the food industry has stopped reducing added salt levels in food due largely to Government inaction. He pointed out this type of salt represented 80% of consumers’ average daily intake.
“It’s now time for Downing Street to take decisive measures in forcing the food industry to comply,” said MacGregor. “If not, many more thousands of people will suffer unnecessary strokes and heart attacks.”
In 2003 to 2010, the Food Standards Agency – in collaboration with the food industry – established salt reduction targets in over 85 food categories, which involved reformulating processed foods, product labelling and public awareness campaigns.
Average population-level salt intake declined by 15% in the period 2000 to 2011. MacGregor attributed the reduction to food companies reformulating their products.
Queen Mary University of London lead research professor Borislava Mihaylova said: “These gains could be seriously endangered if the policy is weakened. The stalling of salt reduction efforts in the past few years is now eating away at the potential population health gains and is costing our health service dearly.
“Over the last few years, quantities of salt in diets have remained steady at levels much higher than recommended. If we can reduce our salt intake to the recommended 5g per day, we will double health benefits and healthcare savings by the year 2050.”
The report calls for strict enforcement of salt reduction targets through legislation of financial penalties that are more stringent and extend those targets to the out of home sector.
Sugar intake research
The new research, published in the journal Hypertension, used 2000-2018 population survey salt intake data and disease burden data to project the impact of the salt reduction programme, and found that:
- The 2003 to 2018 salt reduction programme in England achieved an overall salt intake reduction of 1 gram/day per adult, from 9.38 grams/day in 2000 to 8.38 grams/day in 2018.
- If 2018 salt intake levels were maintained, by 2050 the programme would have led to 193,870 fewer adults developing premature cardiovascular disease (comprising 83,140 cases of premature ischemic heart disease and 110,730 premature strokes), and £1.64 bn of health care cost savings for the adult population of England, the study claims.
- If the World Health Organization recommended salt intake of 5 grams/day is achieved by 2030 in England, these benefits could double, preventing a further 213,880 premature cardiovascular disease cases and further health and social care savings to the UK Government of £5.33bn.