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Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine - Barts and The London

Sauces in China 4.4 times saltier than similar sauces sold in the UK

A new study on the salt content of sauces in China and the UK, led by researchers at the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine and The George Institute China, has found that: 

  • Sauces sold in China contained on average 4.4 times more salt than similar sauces sold in the UK
  • A large decline in the salt content of UK sauces over the course of the past 10 years has been observed in most sauces for which salt targets were set;
  • 70% of UK products met the UK 2017 salt targets. If the same targets were applied to the Chinese products, only 13.4% would meet them.

9 September 2019

The Chinese population is known to have one of the highest salt intakes in the world. For the past four decades, salt intake in China has consistently averaged above 10g a day (more than twice the WHO recommended limit), and sauces are an important and growing contributor to this. Excess salt intake raises blood pressure, a major cause of cardiovascular disease, which accounts for approximately 40 per cent of deaths in the Chinese population.

The median salt content of sauces was found to be consistently higher in China compared with the UK, on average 4.4 times the amount of the UK products. Over the past 10 years in the UK, the salt content of sauces mostly decreased when targets were set, but mostly increased when no salt targets were set. 70% of the UK products met the UK 2017 maximum salt targets. If the same targets were applied to the Chinese products, only 13.4% would meet them.

Feng He, Professor of Global Health Research at Queen Mary University of London and Deputy Director of Action on Salt China said, “The target-based strategy pioneered by the UK could be learned by China. This strategy ensures a level playing field for the food industry, so that all companies are working towards the same targets. This is key to achieving population salt reduction while consumers continue to eat the same foods, which is clearly an advantage over companies launching new, reduced-salt products.”

Puhong Zhang, Associate Director of the George Institute China, and China Director of Action on Salt China added: “Sauces are a major contributor to salt intake in China. This study clearly indicates that further salt reduction in the salt contents of sauces is entirely possible in China. China should take action by setting incremental targets to reduce the salt contents of sauces, starting from high-salt products. We are developing a salt reduction website for food industry, which will be used as an effective tool to monitor progress of the food industry’s reformulation efforts and urge the industry to take actions on salt reduction.”

Setting incremental salt targets is a feasible salt reduction strategy, however, there is still a long way to go for China. Even if the amount of salt is reduced incrementally by 20% every 2-3 years, it would still take on average 11-17 years for Chinese sauces to reach the salt content of UK sauces.

Tan M, He FJ, Ding J, et al. Salt content of sauces in the UK and China: cross-sectional surveys. BMJ Open. Epub ahead of print 2019.  http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2018-025623