Reducing salt consumption

WHO/Sissle Honore

There is increasing evidence that dietary salt intake is a major cause of raised blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases, and that a reduction in salt intake to the recommended level of less than 5 g/day for adults would have a significant public health impact. Current daily salt consumption in most European countries is estimated or measured to be 7–18 g/day, with no Member States meeting recommended levels.

Salt reduction is thus a priority policy action and considered one of the most cost-effective approaches to prevent noncommunicable diseases (NCDs). Action is typically built around 3 core pillars: product reformulation; consumer awareness and education including clear and comprehensive labelling; and monitoring of salt consumption in the population. Finland and the United Kingdom were early adopters of effective salt reduction programmes, and many countries across the Region have introduced effective measures since then.

What was the impact in Finland and the United Kingdom?

  • Finland began working on salt reduction as early as the 1970s, including significant public awareness campaigns. In 1993, mandatory salt labelling was introduced, and products containing particularly high levels of salt were also required to bear warning labels. 
  • This was accompanied by the introduction of a “better choice” logo, supported by the Finnish Heart Association, which identified low-salt options.
  • Daily salt intake in Finland dropped from approximately 12 g/day in the late 1970s to as little as 6.8 g/day among women by 2002.
  • The United Kingdom strategy has centred on the setting of rigorous salt reformulation targets on a food category basis, which created a level playing field for food manufacturers to gradually reduce the salt content of their products. 
  • This was accompanied by recommendations on consumer-friendly labelling approaches and public awareness campaigns.
  • Since the United Kingdom salt reduction programme started in 2003/2004, a 10–15% reduction in salt intake has been reported. Published figures show average salt intake dropped from 9.5 g per day in 2000/2001 to 8.6 g per day in 2008, with a further slight decline to 8.1 g/day by 2011.
  • In the United Kingdom, the salt content of key food products was reduced by 25–45%.
  • Both countries have established sound monitoring systems of salt consumption based on gold standard methods.

Currently available information shows that at least 20 countries in the European Region have explicit salt reduction initiatives in place, with at least 11 countries taking action to promote product reformulation.