The UK government has failed to meet its own salt reduction guidelines, leading a campaign group to call for “stricter and more comprehensive targets”.

The 2018/19 National Diet and Nutrition Survey from the government body Public Health England (PHE) has revealed that estimated salt intake for adults aged 19 to 64 years was 8.4g a day, which is 40% higher than the government recommended maximum of 6g a day.

Additionally, the report revealed there were no “statistically significant changes in salt intake” between 2014 and 2018/19 and no progress over a ten-year period.

“For men and women combined, the linear trend from 2008/09 to 2018/19 was close to zero, indicating no change in estimated population salt intake over this period,” it said.

PHE points out there is an established relationship between salt intake and risk of high blood pressure (hypertension), which is a risk factor in the development of cardiovascular disease (CVD), such as heart disease and stroke.

The fact salt intake for adults remains at a level thought too high by the organisation in charge of its reduction has angered the campaign organisation Action on Salt.

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In a statement responding to the PHE report, it said: “Whilst the findings from Public Health England’s latest 2018/19 survey are not surprising, they are nonetheless disappointing – with no significant change reported since 2014. 

“This is a direct consequence of a coherent salt reduction programme not being enforced by the government and general non-compliance by some of the food industry.”

Action on Salt has called for a tougher response. It said: “The government has renewed its commitment to salt reduction in their Prevention Green Paper, so once the coronavirus pandemic has eased we urge them to enforce stricter and more comprehensive salt reduction targets and create a fair and level playing field across the whole sector.”

A spokesperson told just-food: “The continued message to the government is to implement more robust salt reduction targets – with proper enforcement.”

The organisation is also calling for food retailers to stock shelves with healthier ranges where possible.

But in a statement sent to just-food, Tim Rycroft, chief operating officer of the Food and Drink Federation, which represents the UK food industry, said FDF members have “led the way” in voluntarily reducing salt in food.

He said: “Compared to four years ago, FDF member products contribute 14% less salt to the average shopping basket, continuing to build on two decades of steady reformulation work following successive voluntary targets.

“A huge amount of work has already been completed over a long period of time by food manufacturers. Most ingredients in food perform a wide range of functions, and go well beyond adding flavour, such as providing texture or shelf-life. This means taking anything out of food (through reformulation), be it salt, sugar or calories, is not straightforward.

“When reflecting on today’s data and the future work programme for salt, [the] government needs to seriously consider the role that the out-of-home sector can now play in helping to further drive down intakes.”