Australians need simpler salt labelling scheme: Study

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Salt

Many Australian consumers are aware of the risk of high blood pressure due to excess salt intake, but a new study indicates that many have trouble interpreting labelling info that lists sodium, rather than salt.

Excess intake of salt (sodium chloride) has consistently been linked to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, including high blood pressure and stroke. It has been calculate that reducing salt intake by 15 per cent over 10 years could prevent 8.5m deaths in 23 countries.

The World Health Organization recommends adults consume no more than 5g of salt per day; and Australia’s own National Heart Foundation recommends no more than 6g.

However in Australia, labelling regulations require food manufacturers to list information on sodium content – rather than salt – on the back of packages. To arrive at the rough salt content and work out a portion’s contribution to the daily limit, shoppers must multiply the sodium by 2.5.

This has led to criticisms that the scheme is not user-friendly. In other countries, such as the UK, salt content is listed so as to be in tune with the public health guidelines. Providing information on salt and other nutrients on the front-of-packs is gaining pace in Europe, and some multinational and Australian firms are adopting this approach.

The new study by researchers at Deakin University set out to determine consumers’ knowledge of the relationship between sodium and salt, and the health risks of consuming too much. It observed how consumers used salt labelling and how this use affected their shopping decisions.

As around half the participants were unable to correctly use the on-pack sodium info to pick low salt items, the researchers concluded: “For food labels to be effective in helping consumers select low salt foods, a more ‘user friendly’ labelling format is needed.”

Study procedure

The data for the study was collected from two shopping centres in Melbourne on five consecutive week days. A total of 493 subjects over the age of 18 completed a questionnaire on their salt-related shopping behaviours, salt intake attitudes to health, and ability to interpret sodium information. Of these, 474 provided a valid response to over 80 per cent of questions.

The 27-item questionnaire used the term ‘salt’ throughout for the sake of consistency, and this means the participants had to make the link between ‘salt’ and ‘sodium’ and therefore, in itself, assesses their understanding.

While 88 per cent of respondents knew the risk of high blood pressure from too much salt, 65 per cent could not identify the relationship between sodium and salt – and 40 per cent said they were the same thing.

On the other hand, 70 per cent reported that their purchasing habits were influenced by salt content, and 70 per cent said they had previously bought a product labelled as having reduced salt – that is, 25 per cent less salt than the comparative reference food.

As age increased, participants were more likely to consult the labels for salt information, the researchers saw; as were those who were aware of the health risks.

The researchers concluded that there is a need to increase public education and awareness about the health risks of salt intake, and how a person’s own intake may be affecting their health.

They added that the current nutritional panel listing sodium is hard to interpret.

“As many consumers do not understand the relationship between salt and sodium and given that dietary recommendations are expressed in salt it is recommended for the development of simplified labelling formats that include salt equivalents,”​ they wrote.


Appetite 53 (2009) 189 – 194

DOI: 10.1016/j.appet.2009.06.007

“Consumer knowledge and attributes to salt intake and labelled salt information”

Authors: Grimes, C; Riddell, L; Nowson, C.

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