An estimated 22 million people across Britain are now trying to cut down the amount of salt they eat - an increase of nearly six million since September 2004, according to new research published today (Monday) by the Food Standards Agency.
 
Most people who are cutting back have stopped adding salt to their food at the table or when cooking, and sales of household salt have dropped by 10% in a year, the agency said.

But two out of three people do not know that they should be eating no more than 6g of salt a day, and only a third of adults are looking at labels for the salt content. Men eat an average of 11g of salt a day and women an average of 8g a day. Three-quarters of our daily salt intake comes from processed foods.

Eating too much salt is a significant risk factor in developing high blood pressure, which causes or contributes to more than 170,000 deaths a year in England, the agency said. The cost to the National Health Service of prescriptions for reducing high blood pressure is about £840m (US$1.48bn) a year. Studies show that reducing salt in the diet can lower blood pressure within four weeks.

The FSA today launched the next stage of a campaign to encourage consumers to reduce their salt intake by checking food labels and eating no more than 6g of salt a day.

"It's a great first step that so many people now know that too much salt is bad for them and are cutting down on the amount they add to food," said Deirdre Hutton, chair of the Food Standards Agency. "But if we all check food labels and choose the products containing the least salt, it will help us ensure that we all eat no more than 6g a day."

"We are delighted to support the Food Standards Agency's campaign, which highlights the dangers of eating too much salt," said Peter Hollins, director general of the British Heart Foundation. "High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and one most people can tackle by simply cutting down the salt in their diet. We want it to be made easier for the consumer to be aware of the salt levels in food so they are empowered to protect their heart health by eating safe amounts."

Agency tracking research shows that 46% of adults now say they are trying to cut down on their salt intake - an increase of 12 percentage points since the FSA campaign launched in September 2004. 91% of adults who are trying to cut down on salt say they are limiting how much salt they add to their food at the table or while cooking. But 63% of adults do not know how much salt they should be eating. (Adults should be eating no more than 6g of salt a day.) Only 34% of adults claim to look at food labels to check the salt content.