A well rehearsed press release hits the newspapers today. Because the Coalition allowed industry to be voluntary in its salt reduction targets therefore thousands have died. We should instead have the thwack of firm government as bureaucrats get to tell everyone what they jolly well should do.
Except, of course, there’s no useful proof of any such thing:
Hundreds of people have died due to a disastrous Government initiative to cut salt from food, experts have claimed. A new study by Imperial College London has linked more than 10,000 cases of heart disease or stomach cancer to a scheme which handed control of salt reduction targets to the food industry. The research shows that the annual decrease in daily salt intake in England slowed markedly after the introduction of the Public health Responsibility Deal in 2011.
Before that, the government’s Food Standards Agency had led the drive to crack down on salt, striking agreements with the food industry to reformulate processed foods, backed up with threats of legislation. In the year 2000-01, the average daily dietary salt intake was 10.5g for men and 8g for women. Between 2003 and 2010, the average intake fell annually by 0.2g among men and by 0.12g among women. By contrast, after 2011 the annual decline slowed to 0.11 among men and 0.07 among women. Published in the BMJ, the new study argues that the slowdown is linked to 1,500 cases of stomach cancer and 9,900 cases of heart disease or stroke up to 2018 that would not otherwise have happened.
So, think about this for a minute. We’ve actually no reasonable evidence that salt consumption would have or does cause any of these deaths in the first place. Salt retention is, in the absence of kidney disease, something the body regulates rather well. Sure, it’s possible to have salt poisoning but that’s a rare thing and something we do note when it happens. All of this is just vague handwaving with models. And while widely accepted in public health circles not so much anywhere else.
So, what we’ve got here is what the model – bad as it is – says would have been saved by that lower salt consumption. Not, at all, any evidence that says that these people would not have died if salt consumption across the population had been lower.
But there’s more:
Graham MacGregor, chair of the campaigning group Action on Salt, and a professor of cardiovascular medicine, said the paper showed that the Responsibility Deal was a disaster for public health. He said: “It slowed down salt reduction in the UK, resulting in thousands of strokes, heart failure and heart attacks every year, particularly in the more socially deprived, many of which could have been prevented. “This reinforces the urgent need for a robust system where we generate worthwhile reductions in salt intake which make a positive and lasting impact.
“It is now up to the health minister, Public Health England and the government to set up a coherent strategy where the food industry is instructed what to do, rather than the food industry telling the government what to do, which currently seems to be the case. “The UK currently has no active salt reduction strategy, which is appalling. In fact, the last set of salt reduction targets expired at the end of 2017. It goes without saying we now need to get our salt reduction strategy back on track for the benefit of public health, our overburdened NHS and the economy.”
Right. So here’s a bloke ignoring that reality of diminishing marginal returns. The first bit of anything is relatively easy, it gets harder as the process goes along. But he’s using that simply observation of reality – diminishing returns – by ignoring it.
At which point of course we get to tell him to bugger off. Because anyone recommending public policy without acknowledging diminishing marginal returns should be told to bugger off. Even stronger perhaps, the Anglo Saxon Wave. Because ignorance of reality ain’t a good way to run a country.