UK – A coalition of health organizations, including Action on Salt (AoS), the British Heart Foundation, the British Medical Association, and 30 other professionals, has penned an open letter to UK government leaders, calling for a resurgence of the country’s salt reduction program.
The move comes in response to recent research from Queen Mary University that highlights the significant health benefits of salt reduction.
According to the study, during the peak of the salt reduction program, which spanned from 2003 to 2014, there was a remarkable 19% reduction in salt intake among the population. This reduction may have saved over 9,000 lives annually, a testament to the program’s success.
However, the researchers point out that since the government transferred control of the program from the Food Standards Agency to the Department of Health in 2010, accompanied by what the study describes as a loosening of restrictions, salt intake began to rise again by 2014.
This increase coincided with a surge in deaths due to ischaemic heart disease (IHD) and strokes.
Furthermore, in 2014, the responsibility for salt policy shifted to the food industry, further weakening the program’s impact.
This policy shift has had observable consequences, including rising blood pressure levels, increased mortality rates from heart disease and strokes, and a general deterioration in public health.
The open letter to UK party leaders advocates for the implementation of a comprehensive and mandatory salt reduction program to safeguard public health and the economy.
It also aligns with a recent consumer poll conducted by AoS, which showed overwhelming support among UK citizens for government action to combat avoidable health conditions like heart disease and strokes.
Mhairi Brown, policy and public affairs lead at AoS, emphasizes the need for stronger incentives for the food industry to comply with salt reduction goals.
She highlights that while reducing salt intake is simple and cost-effective, most food products come pre-salted, leaving consumers with limited control over their salt intake.
The study underscores the critical importance of salt reduction initiatives in improving public health, particularly in reducing premature deaths from strokes and heart disease.
If the successful program of the past had continued, an estimated 38,000 deaths from strokes and heart disease, including 24,000 premature fatalities, could have been prevented between 2014 and 2018.
Brown also points to the economic burden of declining salt regulations, with the UK government estimated to face substantial costs due to the slowdown in reducing heart disease-related deaths.
Reducing salt intake by just 1g per day would prevent over 4,000 premature deaths annually and save £1.5 billion in healthcare costs.
The call for mandatory salt reduction programs is not new, with several other countries having already implemented such measures successfully.
South Africa, for example, introduced legislation aimed at reducing salt content in various food items, resulting in significant reductions in daily salt consumption.
Brown concludes that the only thing holding back mandatory salt reduction legislation in the UK is political will.
With a general election approaching, there is hope that the next government will prioritize the nation’s health by committing to reduce salt intake and protect public well-being.