Heart Foundation scores top researcher-in-residence

The Heart Foundation (Vic) recently secured leading salt researcher Dr Carley Grimes, as a part of its pilot researcher-in-residence program, which aims to strengthen the application of scientific research in the development of its consumer-based programs.  The program is a joint initiative developed with Deakin University’s Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition (IPAN).

Dr Grimes, a post-doctoral research fellow at the Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition (IPAN), will support the Heart Foundation’s nutritionists and health promotion team in the development and delivery of its salt reduction program.

The multi-faceted program, which was initially instigated by the Victorian Salt Reduction Partnership, aims to tackle the alarming level of salt consumption in the diets of Victorians – which is currently sitting at around double the World Health Organisation’s recommended maximum of five grams per day.

VicHealth is funding the program, which includes a consumer awareness campaign known as Unpack The Salt, and an industry reformulation and government relations initiative, in a bid to reduce the public health burden of high blood pressure and heart disease – a proven health outcome of excessive salt consumption.

The widely published Dr Grimes said she was thrilled to be working directly with a team that was developing programs for consumers based on her research.

“So often researchers deliver the science only to hand it over to others to translate for consumers. This is a rare opportunity to be involved end-to-end and directly influence how outcomes are communicated,” Dr Grimes said.

“The seriousness of excessive salt consumption is also something that is difficult to convey as health effects are not often obvious or immediate, but can begin at a young age and lead to a lifetime of increased risk of hypertension (high blood pressure) and heart disease.”


Research of salt intake in children

Dr Grimes has dedicated most of her research career to looking at the dietary salt intake of school children including its links to obesity both in Australia and abroad. In 2016, she published an Australian first study of primary schoolchildren and found that children eating greater amounts of salt have a greater risk of being overweight or obese.

The study, known as SONIC (Salt and Other Nutrient Intakes in Children), involved a 24-hour urine analysis of 666 primary schoolchildren aged 4-12 years and found 70% of Australian children were eating over the maximum amount of salt recommended for good health.  The study also found a higher prevalence of abdominal obesity in children who consumed higher levels of salt.

The correlation between salt and obesity in children was also confirmed by Dr Grimes after completing a study in the United States on the association between dietary sodium intake and sugar-sweetened beverage consumption in children and adolescents, which resulted in world-wide media attention.

She is also set to publish this month on the types of foods the SONIC study found to be primarily contributing to the salt intake of Australian children including core foods like bread and cheese.


The tipping point on responsibility

Dr Grimes said that research was now providing good evidence on the need to cut the amount of salt in our diets to reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as high blood pressure and heart disease in the next generation.

“Tackling the excess salt consumption issue is two-fold – we need to raise awareness and demand among consumers for lower salt foods and lobby industry to meet that demand with a lower salt food supply,” she said.

“It’s that tipping point that the Heart Foundation’s salt reduction campaign is working towards, and it’s quite exciting for a scientific researcher to be part of a consumer program like this.”

Dr Carley Grimes PhD is an Accredited Practising Dietitian, Member of Nutrition Society of Australia and a Member of the Australia Division of World Action on Salt and Health (AWASH).