Salt reduction in Australia: from advocacy to action20 November 2019
Background: As part of its endorsement of the World Health Organization’s Global Action Plan to prevent non-communicable diseases, the Federal Government of Australia has committed to a 30% reduction in average population salt intake by 2025. Currently, mean daily salt intake levels are 8-9 grams, varying by sex, region and population group. A number of salt reduction initiatives have been established over the last decade, but key elements for a co-ordinated population-level strategy are still missing. The objective of this review is to provide a comprehensive overview of existing population-level salt reduction activities in Australia and identify opportunities for further action. Methods: A review of the published literature and stakeholder activities was undertaken to identify and document current activities. The activities were then assessed against a pre-defined framework for salt reduction strategies. Results: A range of initiatives were identified from the review. The Australian Division of World Action on Salt and Health (AWASH) was established in 2005 and in 2007 launched its Drop the Salt! Campaign. This united non-governmental organisations (NGOs), health and medical and food industry organisations in a co-ordinated advocacy effort to encourage government to develop a national strategy to reduce salt. Subsequently, in 2010 the Federal Government launched its Food and Health Dialogue (FHD) with a remit to improve the health of the food supply in Australia through voluntary partnerships with food industry, government and non-government public health organisations. The focus of the FHD to date has been on voluntary reformulation of foods, primarily through salt reduction targets. More recently, in December 2014, the government’s Health Star Rating system was launched. This front of pack labelling scheme uses stars to highlight the nutritional profile of packaged foods. Both government initiatives have clear targets or criteria for industry to meet, however, both are voluntary and the extent of industry uptake is not yet clear. There is also no parallel public awareness campaign to try and influence consumer behaviour relating to salt and no agreed mechanism for monitoring national changes in salt intake. The Victorian Health Promotion Foundation (VicHealth) has recently instigated a State-level partnership to advance action and will launch its strategy in 2015. Conclusions: In conclusion, salt reduction activities are currently being implemented through a variety of different programs but additional efforts and more robust national monitoring mechanisms are required to ensure that Australia is on track to achieve the proposed 30% reduction in salt intake within the next decade.