The findings are published as the Food Standards Agency today launches the next phase of a campaign designed to further reduce the intake of salt through 'everyday' foods. A series of new television adverts, which feature comedienne and actress Jenny Éclair, warns that 75% of salt eaten in Britain is found in processed food such as pizzas, pasta sauces and ready-meals, and urges shoppers to buy healthier alternatives.
The research out today shows that tests on 1,287 adults showed their average salt intake was 9g per day compared to 9.5g when the last tests were done in 2001. But consumption is still higher than the Government's national target of 6g per day, the Food Standards Agency said. The urinary sodium tests carried out in 2005/06 showed men consumed an average 10.2g of salt per day - compared to 11g in 2001. Women's average intake was less at 7.6g per day - down from 8.1g in 2005/06.
The results follow a Food Standards Agency (FSA) campaign encouraging people to cut their salt intake. FSA chair Dame Deirdre Hutton said: "Today's urinary sodium results illustrate the progress that is being made in reducing the nation's daily salt intake. However, there is still some way to go before we reach the 6g target and we all now need to build on this to ensure that the downward trend continues."
The FSA's campaign follows a scientific report published in 2003 which said reducing Britons' salt intake would lower average blood pressure, which in turn would help cut heart disease. High blood pressure is at least partly to blame for 170,000 deaths in England each year.
An additional survey of 1,990 British adults carried out last month found that 40% were trying to cut their salt consumption. But 90% of those were simply not adding salt to their food, with only 12% eating less processed food to reduce their salt intake.
The campaign group Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) welcomed the average drop in salt consumption, saying it could prevent around 3,500 deaths per year. CASH chairman Professor Graham MacGregor said: "A half gram reduction may not seem important but given that previous studies had shown that salt intake was rising, it is a remarkable achievement." But the Salt Manufacturers' Association warned that a blanket approach to cutting salt consumption could harm some consumers. SMA general secretary Peter Sherratt said: "If you were introducing a new drug, you would not be able to do so without the backing of proper research, so how can the Government justify changing the dietary habits of a nation when there is any doubt?"
The FSA's Full of It! Campaign, launched today, warns shoppers to check the salt content of ready-made sandwiches, ready meals, pasta sauces and pizzas before buying them. The industry said it had made great strides in helping to educate consumers about the dangers of salt and had reformulated products to make them healthier. Julian Hunt of the Food and Drink Federation, said: "Food manufacturers have made huge progress in reducing levels of salt in food. In addition our members provide 'salt equivalent' information on packs as well as the legally required 'sodium' information where practicable. They are also increasingly providing at-a-glance information on salt on the front of packs to help busy shoppers."