The latest consumer poll from the Australian Division of World Action on Salt and Health (AWASH) released last week confirmed that, whilst Australians may be aware that too much salt in their diets leads to health problems, most do not understand how to work out the salt content from the nutrition labels.
The results of the consumer poll were announced by AWASH Senior Project Manager, Jacqui Webster, at a workshop at the Dietitians' Association of Australia National Conference on the Gold Coast on Friday. Over 80 conference delegates attended the workshop and all backed the AWASH call for Federal government leadership to introduce clearer labelling highlighting the salt content of foods.
Said Jacqui Webster, "AWASH doesn't have a fixed position on which front of pack labelling scheme is the best but wants the government to take action to make sure that any scheme introduced is standard across the industry and in the best interests of consumers. This is not just key to salt reduction, but to obesity, diabetes and a multitude of other diet-related diseases."
In addition to the call for clearer labelling, there was a strong call for the Federal Government's National Diet and Physical Activity Survey, promised for 2009, to include measures to enable an accurate assessment of the current salt intakes of the Australian population. "At the moment it is clear that salt intakes are too high, but there is no up to date data confirming previse levels or to show if salt intakes have increased or decreased since they were last measured. This should be an important part of any Dietary Survey to ensure that the impact of work to reduce salt intakes can be monitored effectively," said Ms Webster.
Claire Hewat, Executive Director of the Dietitians Association of Australia added: 'The DAA supports initiatives that make it easier for Australians to choose healthy foods, and that includes clear nutrition labelling on food and drinks. But any new labelling initiative needs to be carefully looked at to make sure it doesn't further confuse Australians. 'In Australia, we don't have up-to-date information on what we're eating as a population. We need ongoing national nutrition monitoring and surveillance across all population groups, so we would welcome any moves by the Government in this area', said Ms Hewat.
Action needed by State Health Departments
Following presentations on the Coles and Unilever corporate salt reduction strategies, workshop participants were split into groups to discuss the role of State Health Departments. Ideas included:
· DAA co-ordinated regional industry forums on salt
· Local council guidelines on salt levels in foods served at events
· Promotion of increased consumption of fruit and vegetables and less processed foods
It was suggested that Federal Government needed to support raising consumer awareness about the health benefits of reduced salt diets to increase the market for lower salt foods.
Queensland Wins Campaign Competition
The State groups then took part in a competition for the best salt reduction campaign. After a tough decision, the judges announced Queensland as the winners. AWASH will be contacting Queensland Health shortly to discuss how the salt reduction messages could be integrated into its existing nutrition and health strategies.
AWARENESS AND PRACTICES RELATING TO SALT were as follows:
· 1016 participants. 52% female, 59% educated beyond secondary level
· Salt and health - Over 3/4 participants were concerned about salt in their diet. Two thirds knew salt was bad for health.
· Recommended daily intake - Half the participants thought they were eating about the right amount of salt. However, only a small minority (16%) actually knew the recommended amount was 6 grams.
· Salt in the Australian diet - almost 3/4 correctly identified the main source of salt in the Australian diet as processed foods.
· Food labelling - Most (90%) consumers reported checking food content labels at least some of the time when shopping. Only 41% understood the relationship between salt and sodium. Less than 1/4 reported regularly checking food labels for salt content.
· Actions to reduce salt - About ¾ of people said they don't regularly buy 'low salt' or 'no added salt' foods. Almost 1/4 reported that they often added salt during cooking and about 1/5 reported often adding salt at the table.
· Very little change in consumer awareness and actions to reduce salt since survey was completed a year ago.
1. This report has been issued by the AWASH Secretariat, which coordinates the day-to-day activities of AWASH and takes final responsibility for all outputs from AWASH. The Secretariat is informed by an Advisory Group which comprises a larger group of individuals with expertise in a range of different areas pertinent to the activities of AWASH.
2. The Australian Division of World Action on Salt and Health (AWASH) is a growing network of individuals and organisations concerned with salt and its effects on health. A high salt intake can lead to or worsen many chronic conditions including high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, stomach cancer and asthma. The mission of AWASH is to improve the health of Australians by achieving a gradual population-wide reduction in dietary salt consumption that will reduce cardiovascular diseases and other salt-related health problems. Visit www.awash.org.au for more information and for a full list of our advisors and supporters.
3. WASH - In 2006, around 194 medical experts from 48 countries around the world joined together to launch WASH - World Action on Salt and Health - in a concerted effort to reduce dietary salt intake, in order to lower blood pressure globally. AWASH is building on the success of the UK campaign. www.worldactiononsalt.com
4. The main findings from the AWASH 2008 POLL OF AUSTRALIAN CONSUMER