Salt Action Summary
Finland started a successful salt reduction campaign in 1970, in North Karelia. This campaign is still continuing nationally, both in informing the public and working with the food industry. Finland is investigating further reduction options, such as providing ‘warning’ or ‘better choice’ labels on high salt foods; information campaigns; guidelines for food service providers and continued reformulation. It is estimated that industry has reformulated some product groups, such as bread, meat products, cheeses and ready meals to reduce their salt content by about 20-25%.
Following research into salt consumption in Finland, the National Public Health Institute concluded that salt reduction would require long-lasting systematic work, including national legislation for lowering the salt content and compulsory nutrition labelling.
Following this advice, all heavily salted products will have to be labelled, including: cheese, meat and fish products, bread, soup, sauces and pre-prepared foods.
Finland is trying to get salt intake further down by lowering the maximum limits for normally salted products. Please download the following PowerPoint presentation which explains the situation:
Finland, which has aggressively reduced salt in food over three decades, has seen a 40 per cent decline in average sodium intake. That has helped produce a large reduction in average blood pressure levels and an 80-per-cent drop in deaths due to stroke.
The National Public Health Institute of Finland will soon have the latest salt consumption statistics available, based on 24-hour urine collections in representative population samples.
The Ministry of Health, together with the Public Health Institute, is attempting to get EU approval for continuation of the current Finnish salt labelling legislation, which has proved to be very effective in limiting excessive intake of salt.
In Finland since the late 1970s various population-wide initiatives have been implemented to decrease the intake of salt in the whole population. These are listed below:
The "Helsingin Sanomat", which is the biggest newspaper in Nordic countries and by far the most influential newspaper in Finland, has played a decisive role in the success of the reduction in salt intake in the Finnish population by increasing the interest of the population and governmental organisations in salt. Since the late 1970s this paper has published a number of articles emphasising salt as a harmful dietary factor, as well as reporting the availability of sodium-reduced, potassium- and magnesium-enriched healthier salt alternatives, called "mineral salt" or "Pansalt". Most other smaller newspapers as well as TV and radio channels have reported the same view as Helsingin Sanomat.
Additionally, a number of surveys have been carried out that compare the salt content of similar products from different brands. The findings from these surveys have been published in newspapers, and broadcast on TV and radio. Such comparisons have highlighted that similar products may have huge differences in their salt content but taste the same. This has resulted in marked changes in the sales of certain products, which in turn, has promoted product development, which has resulted in products with lowered salt contents.
- Salt recommendations
In Finland the official recommendations to decrease the intake of salt to one half (5g) of the prevailing levels (10g), have encouraged media to take a more clear anti-salt position than might have been the case in the absence of such recommendations.
- Salt labelling legislation
Salt-labelling legislation has been in effect since June 1, 1993. The Ministry of Trade and Industry, in cooperation with the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, prepared new salt labelling regulations to reduce the intake of salt from manufactured food items. The legislation is applied to all the food item categories which make a substantial contribution to the salt intake of the Finnish population. Foods that are high in salt are required to carry a "high salt content" warning. A "high salt content" must be labelled, if the salt content is more than 1.3% in bread, 1.8% in sausages, 1.4% in cheese, 2.0% in butter, and 1.7% in breakfast cereals or crisp bread. This warning label has been very effective and has lead to a markedly reduced average salt content of most of the important food categories, for example the average salt content in breads has been lowered by approximately 20% from approximately 1.5% to about 1.2%. In sausages the average decrease in salt content was approximately 10%. Additionally, for breads, sausages and other meat products, fish products, butter, soups and sauces, ready-made dishes and salt-containing spice mixtures the salt content of these products has to be labelled as a %. Additionally, if food items have a lower than conventional level of salt the food is allowed to display a low salt label. For example, if the salt content does not exceed 0.7% in breads, 1.2% in sausages or 0.7% in cheese then they can be labelled as low-salt.
- Use of tempting health-related logos
Since 1980s an increasing number of companies have replaced common salt with sodium-reduced, potassium- and magnesium-enriched mineral salt, thereby reducing the sodium content of their food products. Such products, including even McDonald's hamburgers, can display a "Pansalt" logo. This has proved to be a good marketing strategy. A more recent approach is the "Better Choice" label, launched by Finnish Heart Association in January 2000. Companies may buy the right to use the label on food items, which have lower salt content and an improved fat composition compared with the average products on the market. The exact criteria have been set for each food type.
These different measures have resulted in a progressive and marked decrease in the average intake of salt in the Finnish population. Parallel to this reduction in salt intake there has been a reduction in average population blood pressure. For example there has been more than a 10 mm Hg reduction in diastolic blood pressure. This reduction in blood pressure largely explains the decrease of strokes and heart attacks. There has been an 80% reduction in the death rates both from stroke and heart disease in the middle-aged population, which can help account for the reduction in overall mortality in Finland which has decreased so much that the life expectancy has increased by several years among both women and men.
Since both obesity and alcohol consumption have increased this fall of blood pressure can largely be explained by the decrease in salt intake. The findings in Finland are consistent with an overall beneficial effect of a comprehensive population-wide salt intake reduction.