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Public Health

Salt campaign

One of the first areas of action to have been taken up by members of the High Level Group is that of salt reduction in certain foods. When consumed in too large quantities, as is the case in many industrialised countries, salt can be harmful.

Scientific evidence suggests that a reduction in salt intake could have a very positive impact on people's health, as salt intake plays a critical role in regulating blood pressure. According to the WHO 1, populations with low salt intake, all other things being equal, have a lower average blood pressure level, thus decreasing their risk of Cardiovascular Disease (CVD).

Studies reveal that the principle sources of salt/ sodium in the diet are processed foods and foods eaten in restaurants, as opposed to foods cooked at home or to which salt has been added during the meal.

A common EU framework for salt reduction has been developed, describing a common vision for a general European approach towards salt reduction. The overall goal of the Common Framework is to contribute towards reduced salt intake at population level, in order to achieve the national or WHO recommendations.

In order to effectively reduce salt intake, the EU framework

  • Will focus on a limited number of food categories, but which contribute largely to salt intake in the diet in many Member States. Certain food categories such as bread, meat products, cheeses and ready meals have been identified as being among the major contributors across the EU, and are therefore targets for salt reduction at EU level. Other major contributing food groups may vary from one Member States to another, requiring data analysis and action at national level.
  • Has set itself a realistic benchmark for overall salt reduction of a minimum of 16% over 4 years, against the individual country baseline levels in 2008 2, applicable to all food products as well as to food consumed in restaurants and catering facilities such as canteens.

The EU framework will moreover ensure that the Commission facilitates discussions with multinational companies on product reformulation in order to achieve reduced levels of salt in processed foods, thus avoiding the need for similar discussions to take place in parallel in a number of Member States at national level. On 21 October 2009 the Commission organised a seminar on salt in bread, technical, taste and other parameters for healthy eating. Raising public awareness, as well as monitoring and evaluation activities, are also essential elements of the framework, which will be dealt with primarily at Member State level.

Member States signed up to participate in the Salt reduction campaign work in the course of 2008 3and a first monitoring report was issued in April 2012 4.

The high level group on nutrition and physical activity is composed of EU (and EFTA) government representatives and is led by the European Commission. The group

  • Enables governments to share health and economic analysis, policy ideas and best practices and develop common approaches;
  • Works on priorities such as improving food products recipes, reducing children's exposure to marketing of foods high in fat, salt and sugars, physical activity, labelling and public procurement of food;
  • Facilitates the sharing of evidence, data and best practices for policy makers;
  • Identifies research gaps and supports health in all policies;
  • Works on reducing health inequalities.

The high level group can also be asked by the Commission to prepare the groundwork for relevant prevention and promotion initiatives agreed by the steering group on promotion and prevention.