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New research led from the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences has shown that, overall, the average salt content of food products sold at supermarkets has not changed between 2015 and 2020. The results also showed that for certain products (ready meals, pizzas and soups) the volume of salt sold increased during this time.

Salt spilling into a table from a salt dispenser

Excess salt consumption* increases the risk of high blood pressure and is thought to be responsible for at least 2.5 million deaths worldwide each year, mostly from strokes and cardiovascular disease (World Health Organization). Reducing salt intake is therefore a public health priority. Since 2003, the UK Government has set a series of voluntary targets to encourage the food industry to reformulate products to contain less salt. These targets are not legally-binding, and it has been unclear how much progress has been made in recent years.

To investigate this, researchers from University of Oxford assessed whether the amount of salt in a range of different foods sold in supermarkets had changed between 2015 and 2020. The study was based on the nine grocery food categories that contribute the most to adults’ salt intake in the UK. For each year, the analysis included approximately 8,000-9,500 food products from 400 different brands.

Key findings

  • The average salt content of all food products in the study fell by 5%, from 1.04g per 100g in 2015, to 0.99g per 100g in 2020, although this was not statistically significant.
  • The biggest reductions were seen in breakfast cereals (-16%) and processed beans, potatoes and vegetables (-11%), but there was no change for bread (-2%) and ready meals (+1%). None of these changes were statistically significant.
  • The categories with the highest salt content in 2020 were savoury snacks (1.6g per 100g on average) and cheese (1.6g per 100g). Products with more than 1.5g salt per 100g are classed as ‘high’ in salt [1].
  • The total volume of salt sold from all food products decreased from 2.41g per person per day in 2015, to 2.25g in 2020: a reduction of 0.16g per person (6.7%). Most of the salt sold came from three categories: bread (24%), meat, seafood and alternatives (19%), and cheese (12%).
  • For certain products (ready meals, pizzas and soups) the volume of salt sold increased, with any reduction of salt content offset by rising sales.
  • Overall, there has been little change in the average salt content and total volume of salt sold from these foods.

Read the full story on the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences website. 

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