Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Express takes on 'health fascists' over salt

Wednesday's Daily Express leads on yet another health story:

'Now salt is safe to eat: Health fascists proved wrong after lecturing us all for years' is a silly headline with an entirely inappropriate use of the word 'fascists'.

The article is another by the paper's health correspondent Jo Willey. She says:

Salt is safe to eat

Well, it always was, just in small doses.

Salt is safe to eat – and cutting our daily intake does nothing to lower the risk of suffering from heart disease, research shows.

For years, doctors have been telling us that too much salt is bad and official NHS guidance aims to speed up new measures to control how much we eat.

Yes, those 'fascist' doctors 'lecturing us all for years' about the dangers of too much salt - something the Express would never do...

Willey also says:

Earlier this year the Daily Express revealed how “nanny state” council bosses at Stockport Council banned salt shakers in fish and chip shops as part of a healthy living drive.

And she's right - the Express did run that story earlier this year. But it wasn't true then and it isn't true now. Neither the Council, nor anyone else, 'banned' salt from fish and chip shops in Stockport.

Willey goes on to describe the results of a study by Professor Rod Taylor at the University of Exeter:

this review has shown slashing our daily intake is not as beneficial as thought. People who cut the salt they ate by a small amount saw their blood pressure reduce after six months.

'Not as beneficial' is not the same as 'does nothing' - the claim made in the first paragraph of the article. And that reduction in blood pressure shows there clearly is a benefit.

Then one of Taylor's quotes goes further in suggesting the Express' angle isn't quite right:

He said: “We believe that we didn’t see big benefits in this study because the people in the trials we analysed only reduced their salt intake by a moderate amount, so the effect on blood pressure and heart disease was not large.”

But Willey's article contains no doubts about Taylor's research. Compare that to heartwire, which spoke to two people whose work Taylor included in his meta-analysis:

"The review by Taylor adds little to our knowledge about the health effects of sodium reduction," Dr Lawrence Appel (Johns Hopkins University Medical School, Baltimore, MD) told heartwire. None of the studies included were designed to test the effects of sodium-reduction interventions on CVD events and mortality, he says, and "even in aggregate, the number of events is small and the statistical power is limited."

And Dr Nancy Cook from Harvard Medical School said:

"This was a crude analysis of the results in these studies, and therefore loses information. In my view, several of the studies were misrepresented and the results of the review are not reliable."

Heartwire adds:

Taylor, himself, concedes that the review may have been underpowered.

They also quote Katharine Jenner from Consensus Action on Salt and Health:
"Contrary to the author's concluding headline—The Cochrane Library Press release announces, 'Cutting down on salt doesn't reduce your chance of dying,'—the review further demonstrates that reduced salt intake reduces blood pressure, [with them] stating that 'our findings are consistent with the belief that salt reduction is beneficial in normotensive and hypertensive people.'"

"It is very disappointing that the message from this small review indicates that salt reduction may not be beneficial; this is a completely inappropriate conclusion, given the strong evidence and the overwhelming public health consensus that salt raises blood pressure which leads to cardiovascular disease."

A 'completely inappropriate conclusion', but one that the Express has decided to splash all over the front page.


  1. Let's hope Jo Willey takes her own advice and starts eating loads of salt.

  2. Same paper to-day -

    Top class journalism.

  3. MacGuffin, you may be interested in seeing this homophobic and transphobic screed in the Mail:

  4. Another shitty side issue of the Express's piss-poor headline logic. Even if the research DID conclude that salt was perfectly safe, which it of course doesn't, it wouldn't be a case of salt NOW being safe to eat; it would ALWAYS have been safe to eat, it's just we'd have been unaware of this.

  5. This is the biggest news story today? Apparently.

  6. I think that both the headline "NOW SALT IS SAFE TO EAT" and the ridiculously illogical article itself should be taken with the metaphorical pinch of salt...

    As one of the increasingly numerous people sensitive to salt, I consider it irresponsible in the extreme for a newspaper to mislead casual readers into thinking that eating salt is not really bad for health and that the good advice to cut down on salt is in any possible way similar to fascism!

  7. - july 28th


    Cochrane salt/blood-pressure message blasted in the Lancet July 28, 2011 | Shelley Wood

    London, UK - Two preventive-medicine experts in the UK are crying foul over a recent and controversial meta-analysis that concluded cutting salt consumption would have no clear health benefits [1]. In a Comment published in the July 30, 2011 issue of the Lancet, Dr Feng J He (Queen Mary University, London, UK) and Dr Graham A MacGregor (Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, Barts, London, UK) say that the meta-analysis published simultaneously by Taylor and colleagues in the Cochrane Review [2] and the American Journal of Hypertension [3] and press release that accompanied it "reflect poorly on the reputation of the Cochrane Library and the authors."
    As previously reported by heartwire, Taylor et al's meta-analysis included seven randomized controlled trials of dietary salt reduction in normotensives (three studies), hypertensives (two studies), a mixed population (one study), and one trial of patients with heart failure.
    At follow-up, relative risks for all-cause mortality and cardiovascular mortality for both normotensives and hypertensives were only mildly to moderately reduced, and not to a statistically significant degree. In congestive heart failure patients, salt restriction actually significantly increased all-cause death.
    He and MacGregor, in their Comment, reanalyze the same data but combined the normotensives and hypertensives. They also omitted the heart-failure trial—a group of "very ill" patients taking large doses of diuretics in whom salt restrictions would seldom be recommended, MacGregor observed. In the combined patient analysis, they find a now statistically significant 20% reduction in cardiovascular events and a nonsignificant reduction in all-cause mortality.
    "The results of our reanalysis, contrary to the claims by Taylor and colleagues, support current public-health recommendations to reduce salt intake in the whole population," He and MacGregor conclude.
    Misleading public messages?
    In an interview with heartwire, MacGregor, who is also chair of both the Consensus Action on Salt and Health and the World Action on Salt and Health, said he and his coauthor felt Taylor et al's conclusions in the paper itself were measured. But they take issue with both the "Plain Language Summary" printed within the main article and with a press release sent out by the publisher.

    "The press release and the paper have seriously misled the press and thereby the public," they write. "For example, in the UK the Daily Express front-page headline read, 'Now salt is safe to eat—Health fascists proved wrong after lecturing us all for years,' and there were similar headlines throughout the world."


Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment.

Comments are moderated - generally to filter out spam and comments wishing death on people - but other messages will be approved as quickly as possible.