It's Never Too Late... Or is it?

Posted: 21st March 2011

I read a tweet at the weekend from @NHSManchester saying... “It’s never too late to lower your salt levels.” I’m sure it’s no coincidence that the tweet came out just at the start of National Salt Awareness Week and it linked to this document from Consensus Action on Salt and Health.

This isn’t a direct criticism of @NHSManchester, who I must add, do tweet a lot of really good stuff and are worth a follow if you live in the Manchester area, but I do see lots of health campaign information from across the board which is churned out mindlessly and this in my opinion is such an example.

This message works on a number of levels and I’m not sure they are all in the campaign’s best interests:

Give it a catchy headline, please
Twitter audiences are special. If someone follows you, it’s because they chose to (unless they used a robot, in which case they deserve to see whatever they get). So you have a head start in the interruption game. They have given you permission to interrupt them at any time you like with a quick 140 characters of whatever is on your mind. But if you happen to be one of their 100+ twitter feed (you’d be surprised how many tweeters have more than this number) then the chances are that even if you tweet at the exact time they happen to be checking, your 140 characters will be off their screens within a couple of minutes and even then it will be fighting for attention with all the other tweets they see.

You have to be really passionate about salt for it not to fall into the “dry and mundane” category and likely to be overlooked, so give your tweet a seriously catchy headline and compel us to click the link. We’re curious animals and we can’t help ourselves once our interest is piqued.

The “It’s never too late” approach
It’s never too late to be more active. It’s never too late to give up cigarettes. It’s never too late to lower your salt intake. This kind of message encourages procrastination. If it’s never too late to address a particular behaviour then surely next week will be just fine, or next year. Smoking messages are particularly interesting ones. We regularly tell smokers that by quitting they can actually undo all the harm their smoking habits have caused their bodies, so they may just figure that they’ll quit in a decade and put it all right then.

Who are we talking to?
This kind of message would be a typical response to someone who says “but I’ve always done it like this...” “I’m too old to change now...” “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks...” which suggests this message is for an older audience and a younger audience might subconsciously filter this message as being something that doesn’t apply to them.

We’re not Robots
I have never met anyone yet who is a living, breathing, keeping-a-running-total-of-how-many-grams-of-salt-I’ve-eaten-today-so-far type of human being. Research shows that adults are on average consuming too much salt each day but most people who are consuming too much don’t know it. They think that as long as they don’t add too much salt at the table, and don’t pickle the potatoes and veg in salt whilst boiling them, then they will be just fine. A headline about lowering salt levels will only resonate with people who already think they might eat too much.

Is it true?
The big question this statement begs is “Is it ever too late to lower your salt intake?” and the answer is yes surely because that’s the whole point of chronic disease prevention? Consuming too much salt is a significant risk factor for developing high blood pressure which in turn raises the risk of heart attacks and strokes. If a person suffers irreversible and permanent physical disabilities as a result of a preventable stroke caused by a high salt diet then have they not gone past the “it’s not too late” point? Although I will concede that, even at this stage, lifestyle modifications will aid rehabilitation and help to prevent further strokes so I suppose it is technically correct.




< Back to Main Blog Page