Government regulation is more effective at reducing people’s salt intake than letting industry set its own guidelines, suggests a U.K. study in theJournal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
It looked at salt intake among English people as assessed by nationally representative surveys between 2000 and 2014. From 2003 to 2010, average daily salt consumption declined by about 0.2 gram a year for men and 0.12 g for women (equivalent to 78 and 47 fewer milligrams of sodium, respectively).
Those declines coincided with a program by the U.K.’s Food Standards Agency (similar to our FDA) that urged manufacturers to reduce salt content in foods, accompanied by a public service campaign encouraging people to eat less salt. In 2011, the FSA program was replaced by a voluntary one that let food companies set their own targets; starting that year, the annual decline in salt consumption slowed by roughly half.
The study authors estimated that the relaxation of regulations led to an additional 9,900 cases of cardiovascular disease and 1,500 cases of stomach cancer between 2011 and 2017. (Stomach cancer is linked to excess intake of sodium nitrate, the type in processed foods, which supply the bulk of the sodium in Western diets.) In the U.S., the FDA issued draft salt-reduction targets for the food industry under the Obama administration, but these are voluntary and haven’t taken effect yet.
Also see How to Shake the Salt Habit.