However, young adults are still consuming high levels of salt, with those aged between 19 and 24 averaging 10.3g per day, according to the FSA’s recent assessment.
While some studies have shown low sodium levels to be dangerous to health, numerous scientists have linked excess salt (sodium chloride) in the diet to an increased risk of high blood pressure and stroke. Campaigns are underway around the world to encourage consumers to reduce their daily intake.
The UK's Food Standards Agency (FSA) advises that adults should consume no more than six grams of salt a day, and hopes to reach this target my 2010. It has said reducing salt intake to six grams could prevent 20,200 premature deaths in the UK each year.
Manufacturers across the industry have been investing in reducing salt through product reformulation.
FSA chief executive Tim Smith said: “The Food Standards Agency is encouraged that action to reduce the average amount of salt we are eating on a daily basis is clearly having a positive impact. We recognise that the great steps taken by many manufacturers and retailers have contributed to this success.”
The FSA assessed dietary sodium levels among 780 adults (341 men and 439 women) aged between 19 and 64 through analysis of 24 hour urine samples.
The intakes of sodium and potassium can be estimated by using urinary excretion. Salt intake was estimated as 1g salt=17.1mmol of sodium.
The results found that men are consuming 9.7g salt on average and women are consuming an average of 7.7g. The age group consuming the most amount of salt was 19-24 across both sexes, and those aged between 50 and 64 were found to consume the least, with women from that age group nearing the FSA’s recommended intake.
These estimates are lower than those reported by the most recent National Diet and Nutrition Survey, but similar to recent estimates based on urinary sodium from 2005/06 in the UK.
Julian Hunt, director of communications for the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) said: “This survey confirms that the leadership shown by the food industry over many years on salt reduction is making a real difference to the diets of UK consumers. Last year alone British shoppers saved the equivalent of almost 2,000 tonnes of salt in their total purchases across a number of food categories.”
“However, we do think FSA is right is to take a more holistic approach that focuses on all sources of salt in the diet,” he added. “Industry's salt reduction efforts are underpinned by the widespread use of front-of-pack nutrition labels using Guideline Daily Amount information to educate consumers that they should aim to consume no more than 6g of salt a day."
Salt reduction programmes
The FSA published salt reduction targets in 2006, covering 85 categories of processed foods identified to be the type of food that needed salt reduction.
According to the FDF, considerable progress has been made towards achieving the targets, and in some cases, the targets have been surpassed.
It said, for example, that salt reduction in bread has totaled 30 per cent, members of the Association of Cereal Food Manufacturers have achieved a 43 per cent reduction in salt levels in branded breakfast cereals since 1998, and potato crisps have dropped their sodium levels by 25 per cent over the last decade.
The FSA has launched a public consultation on proposals that will make its voluntary 2010 salt reduction targets stricter, and set more challenging 2012 targets for 80 categories of food.