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Salty foods threaten child health

27th January 2003

Despite food industry claims that they have been working for years to reduce the salt in processed food, a survey by the Food Commission (published today in the Food Magazine) shows that little has changed in 25 years, and many products – especially those aimed at children – are saltier than ever.

The survey compared 1978 salt levels (1) of four categories of processed foods with the salt level found in equivalent products available in January 2003. The categories were: white bread, crisps, baked beans and canned tomato soup.

Examination of crisps purchased in 2003 showed that the salt content had almost doubled since 1978, from an average of 540mg per 100g to 1050mg per 100g. Average salt levels had also risen in canned baked beans, from 480mg per 100g to 490mg per 100g. Meanwhile, average salt levels for canned tomato soup and white bread showed very little improvement, despite industry and government claims that salt has been reduced in these processed foods.

In a second phase of the survey, the Food Commission compared salt levels in popular children’s foods with new recommendations for maximum salt intake for 1 to 6-year-old children. The survey showed that many foods aimed at children, including Burger King children’s meals, Dairylea Lunchables and Teletubbies canned pasta, would take a 6-year-old child over the recommended daily maximum intake with just one serving.

“The government has acknowledged that processed foods are the main source of salt in most people’s diets,” explained Kath Dalmeny, Research Officer for the Food Commission. “Most people, including children, eat about twice as much salt as the recommended maximum level. However, it is very hard for people to cut back on salt because it is hidden in everyday products such as bead, canned soup and baked beans. The food industry must take greater responsibility for public health and reduce salt in processed food.”

Eating high levels of salt is linked to high blood pressure, which is the main cause of strokes and a major factor in heart attacks, two of the most common causes of death and illness in the UK.

[1. 1978 average salt levels taken from McCance & Widdowson’s The Composition of Foods.]

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