Salt intake falling in the UK – 3,500 lives saved already

19th March

Research released today by the Food Standards Agency shows that average daily salt intake in the adult population of the UK has fallen from an average of 9.5 grams in 2001 to 9.0 grams by March 2006.  Previous studies had shown that the UK was increasing its salt intake with greater consumption of processed foods which have high levels of salt added.  This shows that the UK public health campaign to reduce salt intake in the whole population is already working.  As these measurements were made over 12 months ago, it is likely that salt intake has fallen further as many more processed foods have had their salt content reduced over the last year.

"This is really good news," said Professor MacGregor, Chairman of CASH.  "It illustrates to the rest of the world how a public health campaign can be successful alongside the co-operation of the food industry.  A half gram reduction may not seem important but given that previous studies had shown that salt intake was rising, it is a remarkable achievement.  Our high salt intake, 80% of which comes from salt added by the food industry, is the major factor which increases our blood pressure.  Blood pressure is the biggest cause of death and disability in the UK through the strokes, heart attacks and heart failure it causes. A half gram reduction in salt intake is predicted to prevent approximately 7,000 stroke and heart attack events per year in the UK alone, 3,500 of which are fatal ."  

These findings lend even more support to the next phase of the Food Standards Agency campaign to make the public more aware of how much salt has already been added to their food. Consumers also need to be more aware that within the same product range, e.g. pizza, there is a large variation in salt concentration and that they need to check the label and choose those with the lowest salt concentration.

The results are also very encouraging for the food industry and illustrate the need to redouble their efforts to reduce the amount of salt further in their products.  The work they have already done has shown that it is possible to slowly reduce the amount of salt added to food without affecting sales and without any affect on taste, safety or food technology.

The UK is leading the world in this public health endeavour and given these positive results, it is very likely that the rest of the world will now follow the example of the UK.

i The calculation of 7,000 lives saved for each 1g drop in daily population intake of salt is taken from: Feng J He & Graham A MacGregor. How far should salt intake be reduced? Hypertension. 2003; 42: 1093-1099.