Public Awareness

Consumer Research

a father and young daughter having dinnerIn order to understand issues relating to salt amongst the Australian population, AWASH is planning to conduct a series of surveys. The surveys will seek to collect information about the level of knowledge relating to salt and health, to identify opportunities to reduce salt intake levels, to better understand food labelling issues and to monitor the impact of the ‘Drop the Salt!’ campaign.

This first survey in the series was conducted in March 2007 to provide a baseline from which the 5-year AWASH Action Plan can be judged.

2007 Survey of Australian Consumer Awareness and Practices Relating to Salt [PDF 90KB]

The main findings were as follows:

Salt and health Nearly three quarters of survey participants were concerned about salt in their diet, making salt the third leading concern about food content after saturated fat and sugar. Two thirds of people knew that salt was bad for health. While most knew that it caused high blood pressure, about a quarter did not understand that salt increased risks of heart attack or stroke. Less than a half knew of the harmful effects of salt on the kidneys.

Recommended daily intake More than a half thought that they were probably eating either less than or about the amount of salt recommended by the National Heart Foundation of Australia. However, only a small minority of those surveyed actually knew the recommended maximum daily intake.

Salt in the Australian diet Almost three quarters of people correctly identified the main source of salt in the Australian diet as processed foods. Participants were also able to correctly place about two thirds of a list of commonly eaten foods into high, medium or low salt categories. However, knowledge of the salt content of some foods making major contributions to salt in the Australian diet (for example white bread and breakfast cereals) was not good.

Food labelling The quantity of salt in processed food is labelled in the form of sodium in Australia and less than half of survey participants understood the relationship between salt and sodium. Furthermore, only a quarter reported regularly checking food labels for salt content.

Responsibility for reducing salt About half the group thought that they themselves should be responsible for reducing their salt intake. One third thought that the responsibility was mainly with industry.

Actions to reduce salt One-third reported that they regularly tried to buy ‘low salt’ or ‘no added salt’ foods. Only a fifth of people reported regularly acting on the information they found about salt on food labels. There were still about one-fifth who reported that they often added salt during cooking and the same number who reported often adding salt at the table.

Comparability of findings amongst people of different age, sex and education level There was rather little variation in the main findings across these different population groups. Older people seemed somewhat more likely to know about the adverse effects of salt on health, to be more concerned about it and to be more likely to check food labels. Women knew less of the relationship between salt and sodium but were more likely to check food labels as were people educated to a higher level. However, while women were somewhat more likely to try and buy low salt foods this was not true for older people or the more educated.

Implications and AWASH action

The majority of people are concerned about salt in food and are aware of the adverse health implications of eating too much salt. However, there are still a significant number that are not aware. Action needs to be taken to ensure that the whole of the population is aware of the health benefits of a low salt diet.

Despite the fact that most people are concerned about and understand the health implications of too much salt, most do not know the recommended daily intake and are not taking action to reduce their salt intakes. Action is required to increase public awareness about the main sources of salt in Australian diets and how to reduce the amount of salt in individual and family diets.

Salt and Kids’ Health

AWASH also plans to raise public awareness of the impact of salt on the health of Australian children. It will work with education departments, schools, parents and kids to ensure they are aware of children’s salt intake, and ways to reduce it.

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