Last updated: 21 Apr, 2016

VicHealth’s Salt Reduction Strategic Partnership has been building the foundations for long-term action tackling one of the biggest drivers of the chronic disease burden in Victoria.

Victorians are consuming around twice as much salt as is recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). As a result, Victorians are experiencing related health issues such as high-blood pressure, coronary heart disease and stroke, which are often preventable.

In 2014, VicHealth established the Salt Reduction Partnership Group. Its partners include The George Institute for Global Health Australia, the Heart Foundation, Deakin University, Kidney Health Australia, Stroke Foundation and the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services. The partnership aims to increase public awareness, strengthen policy, support food industry innovation and undertake research to reduce the average daily salt intake of Victorian adults and children. In 2015, the State of Salt report was launched, summarising the health and economic case for salt reduction and began to raise awareness about salt intake as a major public and policy issue in Victoria.

As part of this initiative, the Heart Foundation Victoria and VicHealth are leading a new campaign to raise awareness of the risks of excessive salt intake for health, especially that of our children, and a new project to engage the Victorian food industry in innovative approaches to salt reduction.

Ms Kellie-Anne Jolly, Director of Cardiovascular Health at the Heart Foundation Victoria, said that they will tackle the issue by engaging industry, individual businesses and consumers.

“At an industry level, we intend to support businesses to explore ways to reformulate ingredients within food. These businesses will be asked to pledge a commitment to make changes to their foods and later showcase achievements. We also hope to influence restaurants and food outlets to make changes; to remove salt shakers from the table for example,” she said.

“At the consumer level, we intend to raise awareness and elevate awareness around healthy and unhealthy salt intake. In particular, we will educate parents about why it is important to reduce salt intake and what to look for when purchasing,” Ms Jolly said.

Researchers from the WHO Collaborating Centre for Population Salt Reduction at the George Institute for Global Health have led a research proposal to evaluate outcomes on behalf of VicHealth and other members of the partnership.

The proposal has been successful in securing over half a million dollars of Commonwealth research funding from the prestigious National Health and Medical Research Council.

Dr Jacqui Webster, Director of the WHO Collaboration Centre at the George Institute, said that this additional funding will enable continued research into the state of salt in Victoria: “In 2016, we will continue our work as part of the multi-stakeholder partnership on salt reduction. The State of Salt initiative was launched in May last year and the partnership will begin to implement intervention strategies throughout 2016.”

This year’s World Salt Awareness Week, held between 29 February and 6 March, had the theme of Hidden Salt. A parliamentary breakfast was held in Victoria on 24 March, where partnership members from the Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition (C-PAN), Deakin University shared findings from a study to investigate the knowledge, attitudes and behviours of Victorian adults (see ‘Recent research’ on page 16).

A parliamentary event with the Federal Government will also take place to promote salt awareness. Both of these important events will raise the profile of population salt reduction as an effective and cost-effective strategy to prevent chronic diseases.

Dr Bruce Bolam, Executive Manager, Programs at VicHealth, who recently chaired a working group on salt reduction targets for the Australian Health Policy Collaboration, said that the Salt Reduction Partnership Group is being looked to as an initiative of national relevance.

“The group has made a strong start to 2016, securing new contracts and funding, and coordinating with World Salt Awareness Week, which will further raise awareness and engage stakeholders. We know that salt reduction strategies are up to 200 times more cost-effective than treatment with hypertension medication and are proud to be leading the way in tackling Australia’s high salt intake.”