Changes in the salt content of packaged foods sold in supermarkets between 2015–2020 in the United Kingdom: A repeated cross-sectional study
Bandy LK., Hollowell S., Jebb SA., Scarborough P.
Background Excess consumption of salt is linked to an increased risk of hypertension and cardiovascular disease. The United Kingdom has had a comprehensive salt reduction programme since 2003, setting a series of progressively lower, product-specific reformulation targets for the food industry, combined with advice to consumers to reduce salt. The aim of this study was to assess the changes in the sales-weighted mean salt content of grocery foods sold through retail between 2015 and 2020 by category and company. Methods and findings Information for products, including salt content (g/100 g), was collected online from retailer websites for 6 consecutive years (2015 to 2020) and was matched with brand-level retail sales data from Euromonitor for 395 brands. The sales-weighted mean salt content and total volume of salt sold were calculated by category and company. The mean salt content of included foods fell by 0.05 g/100 g, from 1.04 g/100 g in 2015 to 0.90 g/100 g in 2020, equivalent to −4.2% (p = 0.13). The categories with the highest salt content in 2020 were savoury snacks (1.6 g/100 g) and cheese (1.6 g/100 g), and the categories that saw the greatest reductions in mean salt content over time were breakfast cereals (−16.0%, p = 0.65); processed beans, potatoes, and vegetables (−10.6%, p = 0.11); and meat, seafood, and alternatives (−9.2%, p = 0.56). The total volume of salt sold fell from 2.41 g per person per day to 2.25 g per person per day, a reduction of 0.16 g or 6.7% (p = 0.54). The majority (63%) of this decrease was attributable to changes in mean salt content, with the remaining 37% accounted for by reductions in sales. Across the top 5 companies in each of 9 categories, the volume of salt sold decreased in 26 and increased in 19 cases. This study is limited by its exclusion of foods purchased out of the home, including at restaurants, cafes, and takeaways. It also does not include salt added at the table, or that naturally occurring in foods, meaning the findings underrepresent the population’s total salt intake. The assumption was also made that the products matched with the sales data were entirely representative of the brand, which may not be the case if products are sold exclusively in convenience stores or markets, which are not included in this database. Conclusions There has been a small decline in the salt content of foods and total volume of salt sold between 2015 and 2020, but observed changes were not statistically significant so could be due to random variations over time. We suggest that mandatory reporting of salt sales by large food companies would increase the transparency of how individual businesses are progressing towards the salt reduction targets.