It may be delicious, but Australians (and most people around the world) tend to eat too much salt. Overwhelmingly, our high salt consumption of around 10 grams a day per person, double what the World Health Organisation recommends, is because of highly processed foods – packaged foods at the supermarket as well as fast foods and eating out. This overconsumption of salt causes an increase in blood pressure that in turn leads to a higher risk of things like heart attacks and strokes. The difficulty is that getting people to eat less salt is very difficult, and previous interventions mostly haven’t worked. Could reformulating the foods we eat help solve the problem?
In this study from Australian researchers, they modelled the impact of reducing the sodium levels in packaged foods available in the country 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 huge, but when spread over the population the authors modelled that this would lead to 1770 fewer deaths per year (mostly from a reduction in deaths due to cardiovascular disease) and prevent more than 4000 new cases of cardiovascular disease each year.
Australia does have sodium reformulation targets for some foods, but they are voluntary and overall 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 country’s targets will be strengthened over time.
Trieu, K., Coyle, D. H., Rosewarne, E., Shahid, M., Yamamoto, R., Nishida, C., Neal, B., He, F. J., Marklund, M., & Wu, J. H. Y. (2022). Estimated Dietary and Health Impact of the World Health Organization’s Global Sodium Benchmarks on Packaged Foods in Australia: a Modeling Study. Hypertension, 68(4), 567-580. Available from https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/full/10.1161/HYPERTENSIONAHA.122.20105