Declare war on hidden salt to save lives

Eating less salt could see Australians collectively living an extra 36,000 healthy years in the next two decades, a new Grattan Institute report finds. Each year, it would prevent more than 300 deaths while saving money, freeing upour health spending equivalent to 6000 hospital visits.

The report, Sneaky salt: How Australia can shake its salt habit, shows that Australians have a killer diet. We eat too much unhealthy food and too little healthy food.

Diseases caused, or made worse, by an unhealthy diet now cost $10 billion a year in healthcare and are a leading cause of death.

The average Australian eats far too much salt – almost double the recommended maximum.

That raises our blood pressure and can cause cancer. It condemns thousands of Australians to living with hypertension, heart disease, and the consequences of stroke.

Each year, more than 2,500 Australians die from illnesses caused by high salt intake.

‘It’s time Australia got serious about salt,’ says report lead author and Grattan Institute Health Program Director Peter Breadon.

Three-quarters of the salt in our diets is added during food manufacturing, so that’s what governments should target.

Australia has had voluntary limits on how much salt manufacturers can add to foods such as bread and sausages since 2009, but the limits are badly designed, poorly implemented, and have failed. They have had virtually no impact on how much salt Australians eat.

The report calls on the federal and state governments to:

  • Double the number of food types covered by salt limits.
  • Make some limits mandatory, because there has been no progress in reducing salt intake under Australia’s entirely voluntary scheme.
  • Measure the salt content of foods sold in bakeries and fast-food restaurants, to pave the way for salt limits there.
  • Investigate the feasibility of requiring enrichment of salt with potassium, starting with bread and table salt, because potassium enrichment can make salt much healthier without changing its taste.
  • Require government schools to use potassium-enriched salt instead of regular salt.

‘We are what we eat, and it’s making us sicker,’ says Mr Breadon.

‘If we don’t improve our diets, we won’t improve our health.

‘Our report shows how we can improve our diets and our health quickly and cheaply – and we won’t even notice any change in the taste of our food.’

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