England’s salt reduction programme between 2003 and 2018 successfully slashed salt consumption of the average English adult by 15 per cent, a new study has found.
Data shows 8.38 grams of salt are now consumed every day, down from 9.38 grams in 2000.
If these salt intake levels are maintained, by 2050 the programme would have led to 193,870 fewer adults developing premature cardiovascular disease, and £1.64 billion of healthcare savings for the adult population of England.
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The current amount of salt consumed by the average person in England is 15 per cent lower than it was in 2000, a study has found. Data shows 8.38 grams of salt are consumed every day by the average English adult, down from 9.38 grams in 2000
How much salt should I eat?
Currently, the average person in England consumes 8.38 grams of salt a day.
However, the NHS recommends adults should have no more than six grams a day.
But the World Health Organization says adults should have no more than five grams a day.
The NHS also states that children aged between 1 and 3 should only have two grams of salt a day.
Those 4 to 6 should be limited to three grams and children 7 to 10 should have a limit of five grams.
The NHS says children older than 11 can have the same six gra a day limit as adults.
Babies, however, should have almost no salt as their kidneys have not yet developed to be able to process it.
Babies under 1 year old should have less than one gram of salt a day.
Researchers from Queen Mary University of London studied the effectiveness of a clampdown on salt in foods sold in England spearheaded by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) between 2003 and 2011.
The study gathered population survey data on salt intake between 2000 and 2018 and used this to predict the long-term impact on health.
The FSA’s programme sought to reduce the amount of salt in the public’s diet by working with food companies.
Researchers say the main driving force behind the one gram a day reduction in dietary salt was food companies reformulating their products after pressure from the UK Government.
One teaspoon of salt weighs around six grams and a packet of classic Walkers salt and vinegar crisps contains 0.52 grams.
The NHS says adults should restrict themselves to just six grams a day of salt, with this being significantly less for children.
But the World Health Organization recommends salt intake should be slashed even further, down to just five grams a day — a 40 per cent drop on current levels — by 2030.
If this five gram level is achieved, the latest study says a further 213,880 premature cardiovascular disease cases would be prevented.
Benefits of slashing salt intake reach beyond reducing cases of heart disease, as it would also alleviate a financial burden on the NHS.
Researchers estimate that the currently lower levels of salt will save the NHS £1.64 billion in healthcare costs.
Should England reach the WHO target of five grams a day by 2030, this will increase to £6.97billion.
For scale, this would be around half of what the NHS earmarked for the nation’s mental health services in 2020/2021.
But despite the positive move towards curbing salt, the researchers warn there was a plateauing of salt reduction programmes.
This reduced salt intake, if sustained until 2050, will likely result in 193,870 fewer adults developing premature cardiovascular disease, researchers believe. Heart disease claims the lives of more than 160,000 Britons every year, according to the british heart Foundation
Professor Borislava Mihaylova, lead researcher of the study published today in Hypertension, says: ‘Our results are striking because of the large health benefits that we see with an effective government policy of reducing salt in everyday food products.
‘These gains could be seriously endangered if the policy is weakened. The stalling of salt reduction efforts in the past few years is now eating away at the potential population health gains and is costing our health service dearly.
‘Over the last few years, quantities of salt in diets have remained steady at levels much higher than recommended.
‘If we can reduce our salt intake to the recommended 5g per day, we will double health benefits and healthcare savings by the year 2050.’
Professor Graham MacGregor, co-author of the study and chairman of ‘Action on Salt’, says: ‘This study shows the enormous health benefits and cost effectiveness of the gradual reduction in salt intake in the UK that occurred between 2003-2011.
‘Since then, the food industry has stopped reducing the excessive amounts of salt they add to our food (80 per cent of our intake) due largely to government inaction.
‘It’s now time for Downing Street to take decisive measures in forcing the food industry to comply. If not, many more thousands of people will suffer unnecessary strokes and heart attacks.’
WHAT SHOULD A BALANCED DIET LOOK LIKE?
Meals should be based on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally wholegrain, according to the NHS
• Eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day. All fresh, frozen, dried and canned fruit and vegetables count
• Base meals on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally wholegrain
• 30 grams of fibre a day: This is the same as eating all of the following: 5 portions of fruit and vegetables, 2 whole-wheat cereal biscuits, 2 thick slices of wholemeal bread and large baked potato with the skin on
• Have some dairy or dairy alternatives (such as soya drinks) choosing lower fat and lower sugar options
• Eat some beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins (including 2 portions of fish every week, one of which should be oily)
• Choose unsaturated oils and spreads and consuming in small amounts
• Drink 6-8 cups/glasses of water a day
• Adults should have less than 6g of salt and 20g of saturated fat for women or 30g for men a day
Source: NHS Eatwell Guide