Australians eat too much salt. Our high salt consumption of around 10 grams a day per person is double what the World Health Organisation recommends. This overconsumption is mostly from highly processed foods – packaged foods available at the supermarket as well as fast foods and eating out. Too much salt can cause an increase in blood pressure and a higher risk of heart attacks and strokes. Getting people to eat less salt is difficult, and previous interventions haven’t generally worked.
Could reformulating the foods we eat help solve the problem?
In a new study Australian researchers modelled the impact of reducing the sodium levels in packaged foods to the levels recommended by WHO benchmarks set out in 2021 to see the effect it would have on health outcomes. To achieve this, they firstly analysed data on typical sodium intakes for different demographics, then linked this information to other datasets which held information on the sodium content of foods found in supermarkets.
Applying the WHO reformulation benchmarks, the researchers found an average Australian would see a 12 per cent reduction in their daily sodium intake. It may not sound big, but when spread over the population, the authors modelled that this would lead to 1770 fewer deaths per year (largely from cardiovascular disease) and prevent more than 4000 new cases of heart disease each year.
Australia does have sodium reformulation targets for some foods, but they are voluntary and aim to reduce less salt than the WHO targets. With this area continuing to be a focus for heart-healthy people and global health advocates, it remains to be seen whether the targets will be strengthened over time