Prescription for a healthy Australia: Cut salt levels, save thousands of lives

Dramatically cutting salt levels in processed foods sold in Australia could save an estimated 3500 lives each year by reducing cardiovascular disease, stroke and kidney disease, according to a new report.

Reducing the population's salt intake by 30 per cent was among ten policies proposed by the Australian Health Policy Collaboration to reduce the burden of preventable chronic conditions like heart disease, cancer and mental illness, which affect one in two Australians.

Under its prescription for a healthier nation, the group also recommends a volume tax on alcohol, a 20 per cent levy on sugary drinks, bans on junk food ads, bolstering anti-smoking media campaigns and more programs to help people living with mental illness return to the workforce.

These steps, the report said, would help:

  • reduce smoking to 5 per cent of the population
  • combat the rise in obesity
  • reduce alcohol abuse by 20 per cent
  • reduce cardiovascular disease
  • halve the employment gap for people with mental illness.

The group's director Rosemary Calder said if all the report's recommendations were implemented Australia would be on track to reach the World Health Organisation's global goals, including a 25 per cent reduction in early deaths from chronic conditions by 2025.

1. Bring on the sugar tax

More than 70 per cent of Australian children and 50 per cent of adults are drinking too much sugar, which can lead to obesity and diabetes, the report said.

2. Cut junk food ads for children

About 40 per cent of children and young people rely on junk food to fuel themselves through the day despite these foods tending to be low on nutrients and associated with increased risk of obesity.


3. Boost anti-smoking campaigns

While smoking rates have been falling, tobacco use is still linked to about 15,000 Australian deaths each year and remains the leading cause of preventable death in Australia.  It cost the economy $38 billion in 2008.

4. Help everyone quit smoking

Smoking rates remain disproportionately high among highly disadvantaged groups, including people with mental illness and Aboriginal and TSI Australians.

5. Get physical

Almost three million Australian children are not doing enough physical activity, which is a risk factor for mental illness, heart disease and cancer. Inactivity is estimated to be costing Australia more than $800 million each year.

6. Step up booze taxes

Alcohol is linked to about 5500 deaths and 157,000 hospital admissions each year.

7. Fight mental illness with employment

Unemployment and financial duress take a large toll on the mental and physical health of Australians living with mental illness.

8. Reduce the salt in food

Reducing salt from the food reduces the risk of heart disease.  About 75 per cent of salt in an Australian diet comes from processed and pre packaged foods.

9. Protect our hearts

Most Australians at risk of a heart event, an estimated 970,000, are not receiving optimal treatment.

10. Keep on tracking

Invest in a national measurement and monitoring of chronic diseases and risk factors conducted every five years.


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