Estimating the health and economic effects of reducing salt intake

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Eating too much salt is associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and stomach cancer, with more than 1.5 million deaths from CVD every year attributed to excess dietary salt intake. An estimated 75% of sodium intake comes from processed and commercially prepared foods, such as restaurants and ready meals.

A new study led by researchers from Imperial College London, University of Liverpool and Tufts University, aimed to quantify and evaluate the potential health and economic impacts of a new US policy aimed at reducing the amount of salt in people’s diets. The policy aims to reduce the average sodium intake from 3.4g to 2.3g per day. In the UK, adults are advised to eat no more than 2.4g of sodium (6g of salt) per day.

The team modelled and compared the potential effects of three scenarios of the policy over a 20-year period – with 100% adherence by the food manufacturers with the FDA’s 10-year targets, 50% adherence to the 10-year targets, and 100% adherence to two-year targets but with no further sodium reduction.

The results showed that all the scenarios were estimated with more than 80% probability to be cost-effective by 2021 and to become cost-saving by 2031. The scenario of achieving 100% sodium reduction targets could prevent approximately 450,000 CVD cases, gain approximately 2.1 million quality-adjusted life years, and produce discounted cost savings (health savings minus policy costs) of approximately $41 billion.

Dr Jonathan Pearson-Stuttard, an NIHR Academic Clinical Fellow from the School of Public Health at Imperial College London, said: “We know that too much salt in our diet can be bad for our health and that measures should be taken to reduce the amount of salt we’re eating overall. Cutting back on salt is the number one way to reduce risk of high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.

The researchers have recommended that the implementation of the new policy should be accompanied by robust independent assessment.

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