Date Published: 22 July 2008

UK salt intake levels heading in the right direction

Health Food - illustrating an item from the UK Food Standards Agency.

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 2000/01.

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 year (see reference to the Ofcom report below).

75% of the salt we eat is already in every day 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 more. Recent surveys by Which? and CASH, 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 reports can be found at the links below.

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 that 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 one in every six 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.


Source: Food Standards Agency (FSA), UK.

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