Public health policy works. Here are some hard numbers for you, straight from the United Kingdom:
- Between 2003 and 2011, the Brits decreased their daily salt intake by 15 percent
- In that same time, death from heart diseases decreased by a whopping 40 percent
- Death from stroke decreased by 42 percent
These numbers were published in BMJ Open earlier this week. The British government has been very proactive and aggressive in getting the food industry to reduce the amount of salt in products, and now the UK is reaping the benefits. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Sodium reduction is a big change for a food company. Until a consumer’s taste buds acclimate, the food will likely taste bland and might not be as appealing. This may cause a drop in sales. As a result, no company wants to be the first to reduce sodium, when all its competitors continue to sell a saltier (and tastier) product.
That’s where public health policy comes in. When all British companies were mandated to reduce sodium, it was easier for them to make the change. And now, Brits are healthier as a result.
Meanwhile, here in the US, where the FDA bows to industry pressure and not the other way around, industry-wide sodium reduction initiatives are not on the horizon. Sigh.
Note: As we well remember, correlation is not causation, and there likely are additional lifestyle changes that helped public health improve. The study tracked thousands of individuals over the course of 8 years and in addition to sodium reduction, they smoked less and ate more fruit and vegetables. Physical activity was not tracked in the study. However, based on the data collected, researchers are confident that sodium reduction played an important role in the improvement of heart health.
Salt reduction in England from 2003 to 2011: its relationship to blood pressure, stroke and ischaemic heart disease mortality – He, Pombo-Rodrigues, MacGregor (2014) BMJ Open