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Call to action on major health initiative

Experts say more action is needed to reduce Australia’s salt consumption after new research by The George Institute for Global Health found we are falling behind other countries.

Dr Jacqui Webster, from the World Health Organisation Collaborating Centre on Salt Reduction at the Institute, said Australia needed a reboot in this important health initiative.

“The public health benefits of salt reduction can’t be stated strongly enough,” Dr Webster said.

“Simply put, reducing salt intake to the World Health Organisation target of 5 grams per person per day, will save thousands of lives at the same time as saving governments hundreds of millions of dollars in health costs.

“Excess sodium is a significant cause of high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD), and this includes stroke and coronary heart disease.

“CVD is the world’s leading cause of death, killing 17 million people every year and around 2 million of these deaths are attributable to eating too much salt.

“In Australia if average salt intake was reduced by just three grams per day, an estimated 3,500 lives would be saved each year along with $200 million in health care costs.

“Australia has previously introduced some measures, but these results show that more can be done to help reduce that sodium content.

“We know that reducing salt takes more than just asking people to stop putting salt on their food at the dinner table, because around 70% of the salt we eat is hidden in processed foods.”

The global review assessed the progress of countries towards the World Health Organisation’s target of a 30% reduction by 2025, with the aim of achieving less than 5 grams per person per day.

Based on existing published data and country reports, it found:

  • Australia’s salt intake is 8.9 grams per person, per day, placing it 19th on the list
  • This figure is higher than the United Kingdom (8.1g), Canada (8.5g), New Zealand (8.57g) and the United States (8.8g)
  • Australia’s program of work with the industry has resulted in reduced salt levels in foods in some categories, including bread (9%) breakfast cereals (25%) processed meats (8%)
  • A total of 75 countries now have a national salt reduction strategy
  • 12 countries have so far reported a reduction in population salt intake, but Australia is not one of them

“These results show Australia still has some way to go to reach the 2025 targets that the Federal Government signed up to, but it can be done,” she said.

“Salt reduction strategies can include work with the industry, labelling and consumer education programs.

“Australia established its Food and Health Dialogue in 2010 to help improve the healthiness of the food supply.

“Some states such as Victoria are also to be commended for introducing strategies in this area, and now is the time to see an even bigger effort across the country.

“We have the targets set for reducing salt in foods set but progress seems to have slowed in recent years.

“An effective salt reduction strategy requires an improved determination and co-ordination from the government and food industry as well as more funding.

“The results will be immediate and real, saving thousands of lives and millions of dollars every year.”