"Less Salt Please!" especially for our children

New research published today by CHOICE Australia reveals that many children's foods have unacceptably high-levels of salt with some products saltier than the adult equivalent.

CHOICE found children can easily exceed the upper level of salt with breakfast, lunchbox snacks and packaged dinner. These data are very concerning and prompt calls for more rapid action by the food industry to reduce salt in food.

Using data from The George Institute of Global Health, the new CHOICE research highlights the urgent need to ask the Australian food industry for 'Less Salt Please!' especially in foods eaten by children.

Out of the 240 children's products reviewed by CHOICE, only 20% would be classified as low salt foods. A further 20% would be classified as high salt and the remaining 60% would be medium (ie between 120 and 600mg of salt per 100grams).

Professor Bruce Neal of The George Institute says that salt is a leading cause of ill health in Australians, pushing blood pressure up from childhood.

"Recommended intake levels for children are much lower than for adults so this data is very concerning. This calls for much tougher action to control the food industry, so it is not profiting at the expense of our children's health," Professor Neal said.

The National Health and Medical Research Council recommends an upper level of intake of 5.75 grams of salt for adults with less for children (2.5grams (1-3); 3.5 grams (4-8) and 5 grams (9-13)). Yet, the most recent surveys of children's diets showed that many children are eating more than the adults' recommended maximum amount which is not surprising when salt levels in foods aimed at, or likely to be consumed by children, from breakfast up until dinner time are so high.

According to CHOICE Food Policy Advisor, Ms Angela McDougall children need very little salt to stay healthy and should be eating much less of it than adults.

"Experts say the taste for salt is learned and feeding children food that is high in salt is setting them up for a life-time of poor and unhealthy habits," Ms McDougall said.

Excess salt causes blood pressure to rise cumulatively throughout life starting with children and high blood pressure is one of the biggest contributors to premature death from heart disease and stroke, estimated to be killing around 9.4 million people globally each year.

The World Health Organization's draft Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases includes a target for all Member States to implement programs to reduce population salt intake by 30% by 2025.

The Australian Government's Food and Health Dialogue was established in 2009 and recently estimated a 4% reduction in salt intake could be achieved from the combined cumulative effect of sodium reformulation for the first four food categories engaged in the dialogue. While this is a step in the right direction, Australia needs to more than double the rate of progress to meet the international target of 30% reduction in population salt intake by 2025.

This research was published to coincide with World Salt Awareness Week, 11 - 17 March 2013, which aims to raise awareness of the negative impacts of salt and health and to get people to take action. The focus this year is that 75% of the salt we eat is already in foods we buy and is encouraging people to ask for 'Less Salt Please!'

For more about this research visit the CHOICE Australia website.