Australians consuming 'far above' healthy levels of salt intake
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Australians consuming 'far above' healthy levels of salt intake

It's proving difficult for Australians to cut salt from their diets, with Aussie men consuming more than twice the daily recommended intake.

And women aren't faring much better, according to a study of more than 16,000 people analysed by The Medical Journal of Australia.

The research team found that Australian men are ingesting 10.1 grams a day – 5 grams a day is the maximum recommended intake – with women not far behind at 7.34 grams.

The team analysed 32 studies, taking in 16,836 participants from 1989 and 2015.

Research has shown that Australians are eating up to double the recommended levels of salt.

Research has shown that Australians are eating up to double the recommended levels of salt.

Photo: iStock
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Led by Bruce Neal of the Food Policy Division of the George Institute for Global Health, authors of the study found that with cardiovascular disease remaining the leading cause of death in Australia, reducing salt intake "is projected to be one of the most cost-effective strategies for reducing rates of premature death and disability".

Ischaemic heart diseases killed 19,077 people in Australia in 2016, according to ABS – making it the No.1 cause of death. Deaths attributed to high salt intake have also been linked to stroke, kidney failure and osteoporosis.

The authors also warned that a lack of "robust assessment" in relation to salt intake levels makes the various programs related to reducing salt intake by the World Health Organisation standard hard to quantify.

As a member state of the WHO, Australia has in the past agreed to reduce the mean salt intake by 30 per cent by 2025. But as Professor Neal points out, Australia is by no means the worst global culprit for salt intake.

According to Professor Neal, fast food is one of the biggest salt intake culprits.

According to Professor Neal, fast food is one of the biggest salt intake culprits.

Photo: Marina Neil

"Australia is not the worst, not the best," he explains. "Rural China tends to have higher levels of salt, about 12g, alongside high levels in central Asia. Less developed countries had lower levels, at around 7g.

"Almost no one has hit the target."

According to Professor Neal, the reason reducing salt intake is difficult is because most of it isn't to do with added salt – such as adding salt onto your chips – but more to do with "processed, restaurant or fast food".

"This means it's pretty hard for the individual to leave out salt ... unless you got quite obsessive with checking labels."

But he also pointed out that lowering national levels is difficult, but not unprecedented.

"The UK has dropped 10 per cent in the last decade because the government has led a food-based initiative," Professor Neal says.

Britain has just renewed these salt level targets, which started in 2006, and aims to advise both food producers and the "eating out sector" on appropriate salt levels, in order to achieve its 6g target.

With fierce debate continuing as to whether Australia should join groups of countries who are raising prices of junk food, such as sugary drinks, it is questionable whether such a policy would come into practice soon.

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