Leading scientist affirms link between salt intake and heart disease

Forum on salt as all-island health challenge underway

18 October, 2005. At a meeting in Dublin today Leading Irish epidemiologist, Professor Ivan Perry, outlined the need for Irish salt intake to halve over the next 5-7 years to prevent a substantial number of deaths from heart disease and related conditions. Salt – An All-Island Health Challenge, is the first initiatives of the recently formed All-Island Food and Nutrition Forum comprising government agencies and departments in the north and the south, including safefood, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland and the Food Standards Agency.

Speaking at today’s forum, Professor Ivan Perry, Department of Epidemiology & Public Health, University College Cork commented, “The evidence is overwhelming, a diet high in salt is linked to high blood pressure and increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. We need to see a concerted effort both from industry and the public to lower salt levels over the next 5-7 years to reduce mortality figures from cardiovascular disease.”

Research has revealed that people generally consume over double their recommended daily allowance (RDA) of salt. High dietary salt intake is associated with high blood pressure, which in turn causes heart disease and stroke. The latest safefood tracking figures reveal that although more people on the island of Ireland are now reading labels to establish salt levels in packaged foods (21% Vs 11%)1, almost 40% don’t take time to look for salt content at all. Furthermore, 30% go by the taste of their food to establish the amount of salt in it. 

“Salt is essential in sustaining one’s health. It helps to maintain water balance, healthy blood pressure and healthy muscles and nerves. However, salt consumption on the island of Ireland is generally double that which is recommended and this needs to change.  Younger children are particularly at risk from excessive salt levels in their diet and should eat less than adults. Salt should not be added to toddler’s food,” commented Martin Higgins, Chief Executive, safefood.

Speaking from today’s Forum, Dr Wayne Anderson, Chief Specialist Food Science, Food Safety Authority of Ireland commented, “We are working closely with industry to reduce salt levels and have secured agreement with a wide range of food companies and industry bodies to support a national salt reduction policy to reduce the level of salt in manufactured foods by 2010. This is a significant development and one which will help protect the health of consumers in Ireland in the future”

“The Food Standards Agency has recently launched a campaign to make consumers aware that we all need to eat no more than 6 grams of salt a day to reduce the risks associated with high blood pressure. Most of the salt we eat is in processed food, so a simple way to do this is to check food labels and choose foods with less salt. The Agency applaud those companies across the food industry who have taken the lead in reducing the amount of salt in processed food and we are keen to encourage more companies to make this commitment to salt reduction," commented Morris McAllister, Director, Food Standards Agency.

Ireland has one of the highest rates of cardiovascular disease in Europe*. The established link between high dietary salt intake and cardiovascular disease outlines the need for both an industry response as well as changes in consumer dietary habits to reduce salt consumption in Ireland. More information can be found at www.safefood.eu, www.fsai.ie and www.salt.gov.uk.

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Editors Notes

  1. safetrak 5, safefood's consumer tracking research conducted in June 2005.
  2. A background document with statistics on cardiovascular disease in Ireland / Europe is available