Fast food firms are being urged by health groups in New Zealand to reduce salt content in their foods to reduce the incidence of cardiac diseases in the country.
Stroke Foundation and the National Institute for Health Innovation (NIHI) called on fast food companies this week to reduce salt levels citing studies that pointed to a 6% reduction in strokes if the average Kiwi’s current salt intake could be reduced to recommended levels.
This would equate to over one stroke prevented each day, or over 500 each year, the health groups said.
In a joint statement, they pointed out that the World Health Organisation recommends a maximum of 6g of salt per day for good health, while the average Kiwi currently consumes far more than this at around 9g per day.
Research from NIHI revealed that burgers are the single fast food item with the highest average salt content per serve, while some of the most popular burger combo meals were also found to contribute 80% of the recommended daily salt intake.
“Reducing salt in processed foods has been identified by the WHO as one of the most cost-effective things we can do to reduce the burden of nutrition-related disease,” said Dr Helen Eyles, nutritionist and research fellow at NIHI.
“As people become busier fast food is making up a larger proportion of people’s diets. Therefore, reducing salt in fast food is a no-brainer and will make an important contribution to the health of New Zealanders,” she said.
According to the WHO, New Zealand has had one of the sharpest increases in fast food consumption, coming fourth behind Canada, Australia and Ireland.
“Around 75% of the salt we eat comes hidden in processed food such as fast foods,” said Julia Rout, dietitian and national health promotion manager at the Stroke Foundation.
“A diet high in salt increases the risk of high blood pressure, which is a leading cause of stroke. Some fast food companies have already reduced the salt content of their menu items but far more can and needs to be done,” said Rout.
“In line with previous research, we also found in our recent study that the salt content of similar fast food items [such as two types of burgers] varied heavily, showing it is possible to reduce salt,” said Dr Wilma Waterlander, health scientist and research fellow at NIHI.