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Last Updated: Monday, 13 September, 2004, 07:14 GMT 08:14 UK
Britons told to cut salt intake
Salt content of pizzas varied widely
A major government food campaign is aiming to persuade Britons to limit their salt intake.

The Food Standards Agency hopes the 26m people who it says are consuming more salt than is healthy for them will heed its health warnings.

High salt consumption can contribute to high blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease and stroke, it says.

However, salt manufacturers say the government's 4m campaign is unfairly targeting one of life's essentials.

The FSA said every day at least 26m people eat more than the recommended daily limit of 6g of salt.

Everybody has got used to eating too much salt
Sir John Krebs
Food Standards Agency

Men are eating almost double that, with a daily average of 11g of salt while women consume an average of 8.1g a day.

Approximately 75% of salt consumed is from processed foods, 10-15% is added by consumers and 10-15% is naturally present in food, the FSA said.

FSA chairman Sir John Krebs told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We have a very simple health message. Too much salt is bad for your heart.

"There are 26m people in this country eating too much salt and they are increasing their risk of heart disease and stroke."

Prescription costs

The food agency said high blood pressure is a cause or contributing factor in 170,000 deaths a year in England.

However, studies show that reducing salt in the diet can lower blood pressure within four weeks - helping not only the individual but also the NHS, which spends about 840m on prescriptions for reducing high blood pressure.

Recommended: 6g
Men (average): 11g
Women (average): 8.1g
Source: FSA

Sir John described high blood pressure as a silent killer, as those living with it are three times more likely to develop heart disease and stroke.

But Peter Sherratt, general secretary of the Salt Manufacturers' Association, described the campaign as "spin" because, he said, salt had no impact on blood pressure for people who had not been diagnosed with hypertension.

"All the major research over the last 10 or 15 years shows that it doesn't. You're sitting there with something like a cupful of salt inside you and it makes you work. Without it, you would be in deep trouble.

"It enables your brain to communicate with your hands and feet, your muscles to operate, your heart to pump and it helps you digest your food. Too much salt is not bad for your heart."

Mr Sherratt said there was a possibility that cutting salt out of the diet could actually put some vulnerable people at risk.

Japanese people consume four times as much salt as people in the UK, but has the highest average longevity in the world, he claimed.

Supermarkets' role

The FSA said that manufacturers also had a role to play by reducing salt in processed foods and better labelling of salt on food products, which would help people change their diet.

The Independent says some leading supermarket chains have refused a government request to update ways to cut back on salt content in their foods.

The public health minister Melanie Johnson wrote to leading food manufacturers in June, asking them to beef up their plans for reducing salt in their products.

But her letter provoked a furious reaction from food industry representatives, who argued that they had already agreed plans for a substantial cut in salt levels.

Alison Austin, speaking on behalf of Sainsbury's, said on BBC Radio 4's The World At One programme that they had been working on a three-year programme on salt reduction and were 10 months into that.

"We dispute the fact that our plan is vague and is not doing enough because it was agreed with the Food Standards Agency."

Sir John said some supermarkets such as Sainsbury's had already implemented reduction plans agreed with the FSA. But improvements varied between retailers.

The BBC's Nicola Carslaw
"It's not just consumers being targeted by this campaign"

08 Feb 03  |  Medical notes
Salt reduction
10 Sep 04  |  Newsnight
Popular foods 'loaded with salt'
08 Jul 04  |  Health
Food giants hit back in salt row
17 Jun 04  |  Health
Firms urged to cut salt in food
06 May 04  |  Health

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