Restaurants and pub chains must stop dragging their heels and sign up to salt reduction targets to combat the nation’s alarming levels of heart attacks and strokes, councils say.
The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents almost 400 councils in England and Wales, who last year took over responsibility for public health, points out that only one restaurant group and a single fast-food chain have committed to new Department of Health (DoH) voluntary targets – launched almost five months ago – to slash salt in the 10 most popular high street dishes. These include chips, burgers, chicken portions, battered or breaded fish, pies, curries, beef steaks and grilled chicken, sandwiches, pasta meals and pizzas.
The recommended target from health chiefs is that people consume no more than 6g total salt per day (about a teaspoon). Yet the latest DoH targets suggest a maximum of 6g of salt for just one portion – a traditional Italian-style pizza with cured meat toppings. Some restaurant and pub meals have been found to have even more salt – up to 9g.
The DoH targets were introduced in March as part of the Government’s Responsibility Deal – a series of voluntary pledges by industry designed to tackle big health issues like salt and obesity. Too much salt can raise blood pressure which increases the risk of coronary heart disease. A person dies every six minutes from a heart attack in the UK.
Councils across the country are running innovative initiatives to reduce salt, which include setting up projects to work with restaurants, take-aways and fish and chip shops.
Cllr Katie Hall, Chair of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board, said: “The recommended daily target is 6g of salt per person – yet one pub or restaurant meal can take you well over this.
“Excessive salt is a major killer and not enough is being done to tackle it. Despite new targets set by government to bring restaurants in line with the rest of industry, they are lagging a long way behind. We think this is totally unacceptable.
“We need to tackle head-on excessive levels of salt in foods and the big high street restaurants and pubs chains need to get on board and commit swiftly.
“Many supermarkets have signed up to similar salt reduction government targets, which makes the reluctance of the restaurants even more surprising and indefensible.
“Government statistics show thousands of deaths from salt-related health issues like high blood pressure and strokes could be saved, along with hundreds of millions of pounds to the public health purse. This issue needs to be addressed by everyone in the food industry, quickly, comprehensively and – above all – robustly.”