Child health alert over salt

by SEAN POULTER, Daily Mail

Health chiefs declared war last night on the hidden killer in children's diets.

The first ever guidelines on safe levels of salt consumption could force a dramatic shift in eating habits for millions of families.

Children are taking in alarming amounts of salt without even realising it, in processed foods and even staples such as bread and cornflakes.

Yesterday the Government's dietary health watchdog, the Food Standards Agency, effectively accused the food industry of putting young people's health at risk with only a figleaf of an excuse - satisfying customer taste.

Salt, linked to high blood pressure and heart disease, is used liberally in breakfast cereals, processed cheeses, crisps, biscuits, pizzas, pies and many snacks.

A simple burger and fries meal contains 4g, which is 25 per cent above the entire daily recommended amount for a child aged 4-6.

On the latest figures available children in that age group are well over the newlyset 3g limit. Boys eat almost double that at 5.3g, while girls consume 4.7g.

Boys aged 7-10 eat 6.1g and girls 5.5g, against a recommendation of 5g.

At 11-14, boys eat 6.9g and girls 5.8g, with a recommendation of 6g.

Among adults, the average salt consumption is 10-12g, double the new recommendation of 6g.

The FSA said the situation is likely to be even worse as its figures are out of date and do not fully reflect the boom in processed meals and snacks in recent years.

Parents are being urged to use less salt in the kitchen and at the dinner table. But many are in the dark about how much is in processed foods.

A bowl of cornflakes will contain 1g, while four slices of white bread equates to 1.3g.

FSA chairman Sir John Krebs, said: 'There are important health benefits from reducing salt intake, and we have today set new guidelines for children's salt intake on the basis of the best scientific evidence.

"While consumers can add less salt at the table and in cooking, they cannot change the amounts in processed foods which make up by far the highest proportion of our salt intake. This is the responsibility of the food industry.

"We are urging all food manufacturers and retailers to set targets for reductions in all processed foods."

Chief medical officer Sir Liam Donaldson added: "Action is required to reduce the risk to the population of high blood pressure.

"Industry has a vital role to play in helping to reduce the salt content of the diet, particularly in foods popular with children.

"It is only through our combined efforts that we can reduce society's burden of heart disease and stroke."

The food health lobby group CASH - Consensus Action on Salt and Health - said the moves were long overdue and had been resisted by manufacturers for more than a decade.

Its campaign is backed by Kerry Pollard, MP for St Albans, who said: "Manufacturers and retailers must take more responsibility for the nation's diet and should work together to offer healthier foods to their customers."

Food companies say the chief reason for including salt in processed foods is because it is demanded by consumers who prefer the taste.

But they responded quickly to the FSA challenge by announcing an industry-wide effort to reduce salt levels in breakfast cereals, soups and sauces.

The Food & Drink Federation said sodium levels in cereals had been reduced by 16 per cent since 1998 and it pledged to reduce the amount in soups and sauces by 10 per cent this year.

Director general Sylvia Jay said there was a debate about the effects of salt on health, but offered the industry's backing for the new limits.

She said: "UK bread manufacturers have reduced salt across the product range by 13 per cent since 1998.

"Our manufacturers have now agreed with the FSA how to measure the significant salt reductions already achieved, as well as those planned, in breakfast cereals and soups and sauces."

While food manufacturers claim they are reducing salt levels in processed foods, the Food Commission found recently that levels in bestselling brands of crisps and snacks have almost doubled in the last 25 years.

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