Page last updated at 10:09 GMT, Tuesday, 22 July 2008 11:09 UK

Salt intake 'is starting to fall'

Too much salt is linked to health problems

A campaign to reduce the amount of salt eaten in Britain by more than a third is starting to have an impact, according to the latest figures.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) wants the average adult to eat no more than 6g of salt a day.

Between 2001 and 2008 the average fell from 9.5g to 8.6g.

An expert claimed the resulting falls in blood pressure would prevent 7,000 heart attack and stroke deaths across the UK.

This is the most important news that we have heard about health and eating for a long time
Professor Graham McGregor
Consensus Action on Salt and Health

The falls were confirmed by analysing salt levels in the urine of approximately 600 volunteers.

The FSA said that it was now considering even tougher targets for salt reduction in supermarket food staples leading up to 2012.

It has been targeting popular foods such as processed meat products, bread, pizza and cereals, asking manufacturers to sign up to a voluntary agreement to cut salt levels.

Now it wants extra reductions in certain foods, such as bacon and ham, sausages, crisps and cakes, by 2010, and even further falls by 2012.

The agency will be holding a consultation over the next few months to gather views on this.

Heart risk

High levels of salt contribute to high blood pressure, which raises the risk of dying from a heart attack or stroke. A third of the population is thought to have high blood pressure.

2010: 3.5g
2012: 2.88g
2010: 1.0g
2012: 0.75g
2010: 0.8g
2012: 0.68g
Salted butter:
2010: 1.7g
2012: 1.5g
Baked beans:
2010: 0.8g
2012: 0.63g
2012 targets are proposals

The FSA said achieving the 6g per day target could save more than 20,000 lives a year.

Tim Smith, FSA chief executive, said: "We are encouraged that action to reduce the average amount of salt we are eating on a daily basis is clearly having a positive impact.

"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."

Mixed reaction

Professor Graham McGregor, from Consensus Action on Salt and Health, said that the 10% reduction had removed 19,700 tonnes of salt per year from the UK diet.

"This is the most important news that we have heard about health and eating for a long time.

"The reason that the average salt intake is falling is because many, but not all, food manufacturers and retailers, on an entirely voluntary basis, have reduced the amount of salt that they add to their foods.

"The UK is leading the world in the drive to save lives by cutting salt and many other countries are now starting to follow the UK lead."

Peter Sherratt, from Salt Association said: "The new targets are further evidence of the Food Standards Agency┐s nanny-state blanket approach to telling us all how much salt we should consume.

"It has never been proved that salt causes high blood pressure, nor has it been proved that salt reduction lowers blood pressure for all of us.

"There is, on the other hand, growing evidence to suggest that some sectors of the population may actually be at risk from following blanket advice. They include the elderly, those who sweat heavily when they exercise and also pregnant women."

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