Response to Public Health England’s Proposed Salt Targets
Blood Pressure UK response to the 2023 Salt Reduction Targets
In February, Public Health England released their draft salt reduction targets for 2023 to key stakeholders for feedback. The draft new targets are a continuation of the existing targets with 2%-20% salt reduction across different food categories, depending on category progress. They also include targets for six new categories of food including flavoured nuts, savoury and sweet popcorn, ready meal sides and accompaniments, chilli sauce, dips and all other condiments.
Blood Pressure UK welcome the Government's renewed commitment to salt reduction but support proposals for the targets to go further before they are finalised. Many targets, for example, have remained unchanged since 2017 – this sends the wrong message to industry, where lack of progress is rewarded with less action.
More comprehensive action is also needed in the out of home sector, which has historically been lagging behind the rest of the food industry. Given one in five meals is eaten out of home, and the rise in delivery services is making it easier to eat takeaways, the draft out of home targets are not nearly ambitious or comprehensive enough.
Additionally, there are several other elements required for a robust and comprehensive salt reduction programme, including:
- Regular measurements of salt intake in the population – it has been six years since salt intake was last measured.
- Nutrition labelling on food and drink products – ideally this should be mandatory across all products, with nutrition information available when eating outside the home too.
- A public awareness campaign – the Food Standards Agency’s Public Attitudes Tracker shows public concern of salt levels in food has been falling over recent years. The public deserve to know what is in their food and the impact salt can have on their health, and how to make healthier choices.
- Monitoring – the draft proposed that a monitoring report would be released in 2024, after the targets have expired. Regular, transparent and publicly available reports are required to hold industry to account.
To ensure protection of public health from a high salt diet, all elements of the UK’s salt reduction programme should be implemented. Given mixed progress with salt reduction in recent years, making salt reduction targets mandatory for the key contributors of salt to the diet (i.e. bread, cheese and processed meat) would ensure a level playing field for industry and help bring the out of home sector in line with retail and manufacturers.
Regardless, this fifth wave of salt reduction targets represents an important step to get the UK’s once world-leading salt reduction programme back on track, given the devastating impact a high salt diet has on health across the whole population. The National Diet and Nutrition Survey of estimated salt intake in adults in England, released on 25 March, revealed that salt intakes have not significantly changed since they were last measured in 2014. This is a direct consequence of a coherent salt reduction programme not being enforced by government, and general non-compliance by some of the food industry in recent years.
Once the coronavirus pandemic has eased, Public Health England must push ahead with stricter and more comprehensive salt targets and should consider the introduction of mandatory targets for the main contributors of salt to our diet to create a fair and level playing field across industry.
Government can do so much more to prevent the major causes of death, in addition to ensuring the NHS is adequately funded to treat us if we do get ill, and salt reduction is a key prevention strategy. According to the Department of Health & Social Care, each one gram per day reduction in population salt intake, saves more than 4,000 premature deaths per year in the UK.
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