Cutting salt and fat levels in food could save thousands of lives, says NICE

Newspage: pizzaUp to 40,000 deaths from heart disease and stroke could be prevented each year by reducing the levels of salt and saturated fat in our food, latest guidance from NICE suggests.

Cardiovascular disease is one of the biggest killers in the UK, with nearly three million women and three million men currently living with the disease.

Every year, there are 300,000 new cases of cardiovascular disease, with those living in deprived areas three times more likely to develop the disease.

But despite the prevalence of the disease, around 90 per cent of deaths are largely preventable and can be tackled by making changes to diet, giving up smoking and increasing levels of physical activity.

This latest public health guidance from NICE focuses on food production and calls for a reduction in salt intake, aiming for a maximum intake of 6g per day per adult by 2015 and 3g daily by 2025. This action alone would result in 15,000 - 20,000 fewer deaths from heart disease and stroke every year.

“We know that currently across the UK, people are consuming about 8.5gs of salt every day, and that's two to three times higher than the level our bodies actually need, “said Professor Simon Capewell, vice chair of the guidance group and an expert in public health from the University of Liverpool.

“If salt levels in food are reduced by 5 to 10 per cent a year, most consumers don't even notice any difference in taste - their taste buds simply adjust. Meanwhile they will benefit from better health and less risk of heart disease and stroke.

“We have already seen good progress in this area. Salt levels in bread have gone down by 40 per cent over the last five years. So although our target looks quite challenging, it is eminently feasible.”

NICE also recommends that manufacturers reduce the levels of saturated fat in all food products, and eliminate the use of dangerous trans fats - proven to increase the risk of heart disease and stroke - from processed food and take-aways.

Trans fats are industrially produced fats that are often used to increase the shelf life of a product, but have no known health benefits. Their use has already been banned in some European countries such as Denmark and Austria , as well as in the US States of New York and Philadelphia.

The guidance calls for low salt products and low saturated foods to be sold more cheaply than their higher content equivalents, but NICE is not calling for a tax on unhealthy foods, said Professor Mike Kelly, Public Health Director at NICE.

“Taxation of foods is a rather blunt instrument that would not work,” said Professor Kelly.

The NICE guidance also looked at wider policy actions that can support a healthier food environment. The use of the Food Standards Agency's front-of-pack traffic light labelling system as the national standard for food and drink products in England is recommended as an effective way to help people understand what is in their food.

Paul Lincoln, Chief Executive of the National Heart Forum and a member of the guidance group said: “There is substantial evidence to support the use of the traffic light system. It was the best reported scheme in terms of the peer-reviewed scientific evidence, and its use would not demonise foods but help people to choose healthy options. We know that this scheme will not widen health inequalities.

“However, the EU has voted to go for the guideline dietary amount scheme instead of the traffic lights. It's regrettably that it does not include the colour coding.

“So in the meantime we should urge the progressive food companies and retailers who have adopted the traffic light system in this country to continue to use this scheme.”

Other guidance recommendations include extending restrictions on TV advertising for foods and high in saturated fats, salt and sugar to 9pm to protect children, and encouraging local planning authorities to restrict planning permission for take-aways and other food retail outlets in specific areas, such as within walking distance of schools.

Professor Alan Maryon-Davis, President of the Faculty of Public Health, described the guidance as being “the most significant and far-reaching” public health guidance to come out of NICE so far.

“It takes in a broad sweep of population risk factors and provides an invaluable set of practical recommendations for policymakers, practitioners and researchers,” he added.

22 June 2010

This page was last updated: 25 June 2010

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Copyright 2014 National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. All rights reserved.