Academic research by Queen Mary University of London show that England’s salt reduction programme will prevent nearly 200,000 cases of heart disease and save £1.64 billion in healthcare costs by 2050.

The researchers also warn that the recent stalling of salt reduction programmes is “endangering the potential health gains, as salt intake remains significantly higher than recommended levels”.

According to Queen Mary University of London, in 2003 to 2010, the Food Standards Agency, in collaboration with the food industry, established salt reduction targets in over 85 food categories, which involved reformulating processed foods, product labelling and public awareness campaigns.

Consequently, average population-level salt intake reduced by 15 per cent in the period 2000 to 2011, with the decline attributed to food companies reformulating their products.

The new research, published in the journal Hypertensionused 2000-2018 population survey salt intake data and disease burden data to project the impact of the salt reduction programme, and found that:

  • The 2003 to 2018 salt reduction programme in England achieved an overall salt intake reduction of 1 gram/day per adult, from 9.38 grams/day in 2000 to 8.38 grams/day in 2018.
  • If 2018 salt intake levels are maintained, by 2050 the programme would have led to 193,870 fewer adults developing premature cardiovascular disease (comprising 83,140 cases of premature ischemic heart disease and 110,730 premature strokes), and £1.64 billion of health care cost savings for the adult population of England.
  • If the World Health Organization recommended salt intake of 5 grams/day is achieved by 2030 in England, these benefits could double, preventing a further 213,880 premature cardiovascular disease cases and further health and social care savings to the UK government of £5.33 billion.

Lead researcher Professor Borislava Mihaylova from Queen Mary University of London said: “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.”