November 2/London/Daily Mail -- Heart disease could be cut by almost a fifth if food companies were banned from adding too much salt to their products, research has found. Banning manufacturers from adding salt to ready meals, cereals, crisps and sandwiches would save tens of thousands of lives a year by lowering the number of heart attacks and strokes, it claims.
A major study has found such laws would be 20 times more effective in improving health than offering dietary advice. Heart attacks and strokes are by far the biggest killers in Britain, claiming 230,000 lives every year, but experts say up to a fifth of these deaths could be prevented by eating less salt, which increases blood pressure and the risk of heart disease.
Guidelines recommend that people eat no more than 6g of salt a day, although average daily consumption in the U.K. is 9g.
Many foods, including ready meals, pizzas and sandwiches, contain well over half the recommended daily amount in a single portion. Researchers in Australia found that forcing companies to limit the amount of salt in their products would cut deaths from heart disease by 18%.
Such restrictions might include banning ready meals from having more than 3g of salt and crisps and sandwiches more than 0.6g.
The study, published in the journal Heart, concluded that it was not enough to advise people on healthy eating and hope they choose to cut down on salt.
Lead researcher Linda Cobiac, from the University of Queensland, said, "Food manufacturers have a responsibility to make money for their shareholders, but they also have a responsibility to society.
"If corporate responsibility fails, maybe there is an ethical justification for government to step in and legislate."
The coalition does not have any plans to force manufacturers to limit either salt or fat content and insists firms are working hard to make their products healthier. Earlier this year, the health watchdog NICE demanded a change in the law and called for companies to be paid to reduce salt or fat.
Katharine Jenner, of the Consensus Action on Salt and Health pressure group, said, "CASH and the Food Standards Agency have pioneered an approach whereby all manufacturers across all food sectors gradually reduce the amount of salt they put in their food, so consumers do not have to consciously choose low-salt products."
Victoria Taylor, of the British Heart Foundation, said, "Voluntary regulations placed on food companies have already achieved good results.
"We're making progress without the need for compulsory limits."
From the November 15, 2010, Prepared Foods E-dition