Efforts to reduce the public’s salt intake amount to a “national tragedy”, campaigners said, as it emerged almost half of Government-set targets were missed.
Just over half (52%) of all average salt reduction targets for products consumed in the home were achieved by 2017, Public Health England (PHE) said in a report.
It said its analysis reveals a “mixed picture” of how the food industry has responded to the voluntary targets, introduced in 2014 after the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) recommended that the population should consume less.
Professor Graham MacGregor, chairman of campaign group Action on Salt, said: “Such poor progress in PHE’s attempt to reduce salt intake is a national tragedy.
“This report confirms what we know already – that voluntary targets need comprehensive monitoring and guidance – but this has been completely lacking from PHE.
The PHE report provides the first detailed analysis of the salt content of foods for which salt reduction targets have been set.
While “clear progress” had been made since work began to reduce salt intakes in 2004, further “realistic but ambitious goals” were needed, PHE said.
In foods such as bread and baked beans, reducing salt levels had gone “really, really well”, a spokesman said, while meat products that were inherently salty had changed comparatively little.
Dr Alison Tedstone, PHE chief nutritionist said: “While we have seen some progress, those that have taken little or no action cannot be excused for their inactivity.
“It is clear that, with the right leadership from industry, further salt reduction in foods continues to be possible.”
Retailers were found to have made more progress than manufacturers towards achieving average targets, meeting 73% compared with manufacturers meeting 37%.
Breakfast cereals, fat spreads, baked beans, pizzas, cakes, pastries, fruit pies and other pastry-based desserts, pasta, quiche, processed potato products, stocks and gravies met the average targets.
Meat products were the saltiest culprits, with no average targets met and 43% of products with salt levels above the maximum.
Ready meals, soups, biscuits, rice, other cereals and meat alternatives did not meet any of the average targets set.
Overall, 81% of products consumed in the home had sodium levels at or below their maximum target level.
For food eaten out of the home, 71% of products were below maximum target levels.
Public Health Minister Steve Brine said: “While it is encouraging to see the food industry is making progress towards the salt reduction targets we set in 2014, we know there is more to do.
“That’s why we committed to further reducing salt intake in our prevention vision. Next year we will put forward realistic but ambitious goals and set out details of how we will meet them.”
The Government said it will announce its next steps for salt reduction by Easter 2019.
The maximum recommended daily intake of salt for an adult is 6g.
The foods covered by the targets are the main contributors to dietary salt intakes in adults in the UK and provide around 54% of salt in the diet.
PHE expects to publish an assessment of current salt intakes for adults in England by early 2020.