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Salt regulation changes linked to disease rise

Friday July 19th, 2019

The end of government regulations on salt content in food is linked to thousands of extra cardiovascular disease and stomach cancer cases in England, it was claimed today.

Researchers from Imperial College London and the University of Liverpool believe the relaxation of UK industry regulation has been linked with 9,900 additional cases of cardiovascular disease, and 1,500 cases of stomach cancer.

The teams used data from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey and national salt surveys, which were conducted 2000-2013, to analyse the salt intake of the population in England over 13 years.

The results of their study, which is published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, found that since the voluntary agreement was introduced in 2011, the decline in salt intake has stalled.

Between 2003 and 2010, the independent Food Standards Agency (FSA) closely monitored salt content and agreed on targets for salt reduction with industry. Before 2011, salt intake fell annually by 0.2g a day for men, and 0.12g a day for women.

However, when the regulations were relaxed and the FSA policy was replaced by the Public Health Responsibility Deal, under which the food industry set its own targets, annual declines slowed to 0.11g per day for men, and 0.07g per day for women.

Dr Anthony Laverty, lead author of the research from Imperial's School of Public Health, said the newer system lacked robust and independent target setting, monitoring, and enforcement.

“Evidence from around the world is now showing that mandatory approaches are much more effective than self- regulation by industry in reducing the amount of salt and sugar in our diet,” he said.

The team warn that without urgent action, there could be an additional 26,000 of cardiovascular disease, and 3,800 cases of stomach cancer between 2019 and 2025.

Study co-author Professor Martin O'Flaherty, of the University of Liverpool, added: "We are eating too much salt. Previous research has shown three-quarters of salt in our diet is hidden in processed food such as bread, ready meals and soups.

“The FSA approach was one of the most robust strategies internationally. Our research shows that we now need an equally robust mandatory programme to accelerate salt intake reduction. This will require clear targets and penalties to ensure the food industry reduce salt content in foods. Softer, voluntary measures could generate additional heart attacks, strokes and cancer cases."

Laverty A, Kypridemos C, Seferidi P et al. Quantifying the impact of the Public Health Responsibility Deal on salt intake, cardiovascular disease and gastric cancer burdens: interrupted time series and microsimulation study. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 19 July 2019; doi 10.1136.jech-2018-211749

Tags: Diet & Food | Heart Health | NHS | UK News

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