Pre-packaged meals are putting Australians at higher risk of chronic diseases such as kidney, stroke and heart disease due to high levels of salt.
The Australian Health Policy Collaboration (AHPC) at Victoria University is calling for a concerted government approach to reduce the amount of salt in packaged food following new research showing some meals contain more than the maximum recommended 5 grams daily salt intake in a single serve.
Rosemary Calder, Director of the Australian Health Policy Collaboration (AHPC), said reducing the amount of salt in processed products using reformulation could save about 3500 lives each year and prevent chronic diseases including kidney, stroke and heart disease.
“Food reformulation is effective,” she said. “We have seen how mandatory folic acid fortification in bread has significantly prevented cases of neural tube defects such as spina bifida.
“Many people do not know how much salt they are consuming and may feel that they are taking a healthier option by choosing pre-packaged meals but instead are putting themselves at risk without realising it.”
The average adult salt consumption is 8.1 grams per day – higher than the World Health Organisation's maximum daily adult salt intake of 5 grams – with 75 per cent of intake coming from processed and pre-packaged food.
AHPC lead researcher, Dr Rebeca Lindberg, said Australian food manufacturers needed to do more to improve the nutrition profile of processed foods.
“The UK, Argentina and South Africa are leading the world in decreasing population salt levels,” Dr Lindberg said. “Food reformulation is one of the best-buys for government as it is highly cost-effective, very cheap and extremely feasible.”
Her research found the Federal Government should capitalise on the existing infrastructure, the Healthy Food Partnership, to implement a more comprehensive healthy eating agenda.
AHPC is part of a national collaboration of over 50 leading health experts, clinicians and professionals and 70 organisations who have set and endorsed a target for 30 per cent reduction in average salt intake by 2025.
The collaboration also endorsed Getting Australia’s Health on Track, a policy roadmap which identified salt reduction as the priority for cutting the amount of salt Australians consume.