Hundreds of deaths linked to failed salt reduction policy - report

19 July 2019, 01:18 | Updated: 19 July 2019, 05:09

A failed salt reduction strategy agreed between the government and the food industry has resulted in hundreds of early deaths that could have been avoided.

Researchers analysing the impact of the Public Health Responsibility Deal, introduced in 2011 and action by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) before then found that the new arrangement actually slowed the rate of reduction of salt in food.

The team from from Imperial College London, Liverpool University and the University of Stirling concluded that if the rate of reduction had stayed as it was prior to 2011 then there would have been 11,400 fewer cases of stomach cancer, stroke and heart disease and 1,320 fewer deaths between 2011 and 2018.

And the team warned that if nothing changes from now until 2025, an estimated 40,300 cases of the same diseases and 7,500 deaths will have occurred since 2011, which otherwise could have been avoided.

Prior to 2011 the FSA had voluntary agreements with industry to reformulate processed foods, but crucially had the power to set binding targets if the they were not met.

Those statutory powers disappeared with the Public Health Responsibility Deal.

In their report the researchers said that in 2000/01, average daily dietary salt intake was 10.5g for men and 8g for women in England, well above the recommended 6g a day.

Between 2003 and 2010, this intake fell by 0.2g among men and by 0.12 g among women.

But between 2011 and 2014, annual reductions in dietary salt intake slowed to 0.11g among men and to 0.07g among women.

One of the study authors, Professor Simon Capewell, from the University of Liverpool, said: "The policy messages from this dietary salt reduction analysis could not be clearer.

"The UK Government has a stark choice - either continue its laissez-faire approach which will kill or maim thousands more people, or reactivate the successful FSA approach which would prevent thousands of deaths, and powerfully
assist the NHS and UK economy."

The research appears to confirm the findings of a 2015 government-funded study which found that the Public Health Responsibility Deal had little positive impact on people's health.

Tim Rycroft, chief operating officer of the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), speaking for industry, said: "FDF members have led the way in voluntarily reducing salt in food.

"Compared to four years ago, FDF member products contribute 14% less salt to the average shopping basket, continuing to build on two decades of steady reformulation work following successive voluntary targets.

"Thanks to the huge amount of work that has already been completed over a long period of time, it is no surprise that the rate of change will slow down.

"Most ingredients in food perform a wide range of functions, and go well beyond adding flavour, such as providing texture or shelf-life.

"This means taking anything out of food (through reformulation), be it salt, sugar or calories, is not straightforward.

"We recognise there is more to be done and manufacturers remain committed to the Government's various reformulation programmes."