Healthy living

Salt cuts would reduce heart disease by one fifth

Salt cuts would reduce heart disease by one fifth Diet advice ineffective

Setting legal limits on the amount of salt allowed in processed foods would reduce heart disease by one fifth, researchers claim.

Forcing manufacturers to cut salt levels is 20 times more effective at reducing heart disease compared with voluntary measures by the food industry, according to research published online in the journal Heart.

Around three quarters of the salt in our diet is already in the food we eat. For good health, adults should consume no more than 6g of salt a day, but UK adults consume around 8.6 g daily.

High dietary salt intake is linked to an increased risk of high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease. Heart disease is the UK's biggest cause of premature death.

Researchers from the University of Queensland compared different strategies for reducing dietary salt, including advice from health experts on how to cut down on salt, voluntary salt reduction by food manufacturers and legally restricting the levels of salt allowed in processed foods.

The different strategies were costed in terms of their impact on years of good health over a lifetime, and the savings over time to the health service. They also compared the results with what would happen if none of the strategies were in place.

Dietary advice alone was not cost effective, even if targeted towards those most at risk of heart disease and stroke, as their calculations showed it only cut ill health from these conditions by less than 0.5 per cent.

The findings also showed that voluntary salt reductions on the salt levels of processed foods would cut ill health from heart disease by only about one per cent.

However, setting mandatory limits on the amount of salt in processed foods could lead to a 18 per cent reduction in heart disease, the researchers said.

“Food manufacturers have a responsibility to make money for their shareholders, but they also have a responsibility to society.

"If corporate responsibility fails, maybe there is an ethical justification for government to step in and legislate," the authors wrote.

This article was published on Tue 2 November 2010

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