Five years after initial survey, little has changed
Health conscious consumers know that they should avoid Burger King’s Bacon Double Cheeseburger, which is the saltiest version of itself in the world. But what about a 6” Subway Club sandwich? With 2.1 grams of sodium, this so-called healthier choice has nearly a full day’s worth of Health Canada’s target sodium intake for Canadians.
A 2014 global survey by World Action on Salt and Health (WASH) shows that many of Canada’s menu items and packaged foods are saltier than their equivalents in the U.S. and elsewhere. The most shocking high sodium products come from foods that many food companies market as healthy such as Kellogg’s All Bran and Special K breakfast cereals, both of which have higher sodium content than their U.S. versions. This misleads Canadians.
“Manufacturers are clearly able to make products with less salt, but deliberately choose not to, despite salt damaging their customer’s health,” says Clare Farrand, International Programme Lead at WASH. In the past, food manufacturers have blamed sodium disparities on national taste preferences, an assertion which has been supported by some surveys. However, the most recent WASH survey seems to suggest otherwise. If the U.S. has the least salty Kellogg’s All Bran and the most salty Burger King Onion Rings, what else is at play?
Dr. Norm Campbell, HSFC CIHR Chair of Hypertension Prevention and Control, is concerned about the lack of government regulation and oversight of the packaged food and restaurant industries in Canada. “We have known about this problem for decades,” says Dr. Campbell. “Not only do sodium levels remain high, they are also not decreasing nearly enough despite a global consensus on the need for sodium reduction. It’s outrageous.”
Indeed, the already high levels of sodium in some foods, including KFC’s Canadian version of Popcorn Chicken, have gone up since the WASH survey of 2009. Global experts have called on companies to take responsibility for their effects on a customer’s health, and governments can also encourage sodium reduction with regulatory and policy tools. According to Dr. Campbell, the federal government needs to take stronger action. “The lack of movement on this issue indicates that we cannot entrust the health of Canadians to private corporations. Our government needs to step in and ensure that companies operating in Canada align with global best practices when it comes to sodium.”