According to new research, thousands of preventable deaths have occurred since the UK government stopped urging the food industry to reduce salt levels in their products. Salt consumption is a leading cause of high blood pressure, which in turn increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
From 2006, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) implemented a program in which food manufacturers were required to decrease salt content in various processed and prepared foods. This initiative led to a nearly 20% decrease in England’s average salt intake.
However, in 2011, the coalition government abandoned the FSA’s interventionist approach and instead introduced the “public health responsibility deal.” This deal allowed food producers to once again determine their own salt levels. Public health experts criticized this voluntary approach and advocated for the FSA’s stronger regulatory tactics.
According to a study published in the Journal of Hypertension, average salt intake in England increased after the government’s policy change, reaching 8.39g a day in 2018 compared to 7.58g a day in 2014. The study also revealed that both population-wide blood pressure levels and the rate of deaths from heart attacks and strokes leveled off after the abandonment of salt reduction targets. Previously, these figures had been declining as a result of the reduction in salt content in foodstuffs.
A team of researchers led by Dr. Jing Song from Queen Mary University of London projected that if the salt reduction campaign had continued, average salt intake could have further decreased by 1.45g a day between 2014 and 2018. This reduction would have prevented over 38,000 deaths related to heart disease and strokes in just four years, with 24,000 of those being premature deaths.
Dr. Graham MacGregor, the chair of the campaign group Action on Salt and a co-author of the study, emphasized the need for the government to establish a comprehensive strategy that instructs the food industry, rather than allowing the industry to dictate policies.
The British Heart Foundation stated that the study highlights the lack of progress in recent years in reducing salt content in food. The organization urged the government to mandate lower levels of salt in food products to combat the dangerously high salt intake of the population.
The Department of Health and Social Care has yet to comment on the research.
– Journal of Hypertension
– Campaign group Action on Salt
– British Heart Foundation