The researchers at The University of Auckland and the George Institute for Global Health revealed their findings in the Medical Journal of Australia.
Dr Helen Eyles from The University of Auckland’s Clinical Trials Research Unit says: “Bread is the largest contributor to dietary sodium intake in both Australia and New Zealand, and excess sodium can cause blood pressure to rise over time, greatly increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease.”
The study assessed the effectiveness of collaboration between the Australian Division of World Action on Salt and Health and the Heart Foundation in New Zealand with food manufacturers to voluntarily reduce sodium levels in breads between 2007 and 2010.
Nutrition information data was collected from packaged breads sold at Pak’n’Save and Foodtown/Countdown supermarkets in New Zealand, and Coles and Woolworths in Australia over the four-year period.
Findings showed the proportion of Australian bread products meeting the Australian maximum level target of 400mg/100g increased from 29% in 2007 to 50% in 2010. Despite this, there was no change in the average sodium concentration of all breads over that time.
In comparison, there were improvements in both the proportion of New Zealand bread products meeting the New Zealand Heart Foundation target and the overall mean sodium level in New Zealand breads. In 2007 49% of breads met the Heart Foundation 450mg/100g target; by 2010 this had risen to 90%.
Associate Professor Cliona Ni Mhurchu says: “With an average decrease of 30mg/100g in the sodium content of New Zealand breads over the past four years, there is likely to have been a small but important drop in the amount of sodium consumed by New Zealanders. However, a great deal more needs to be done if we are to have a real impact on population health.
“On the whole, our data shows that while non-government organisations’ engagement with the food industry can have some positive impact in lowering sodium there remains substantial room for further improvement and a need for continued action with greater involvement by more sectors of the food industry.
“Strong government leadership has been a central feature of the successful ongoing salt reduction programmes abroad, such as in the UK, Finland, the United States and Canada.”