New research led by Queen Mary University of London has found that salt intake in China is confirmed to be among the highest in the world, with adults over the past four decades consistently consuming on average above 10g of salt a day, which is more than twice the recommended limit.
The systematic review and meta-analysis, funded by the National Institute for Health Research and published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, also found that Chinese children aged 3-6 are eating the maximum amount of salt recommended by the World Health Organization for adults (5g a day).
The team reviewed all data ever published on salt intake in China (which involved about 900 children and 26,000 adults across the country) and found that salt intake has been consistently high over the past four decades, with a divide between the north and south of the country.
While salt intake in northern China is among the highest in the world (11.2g a day on average), it has been declining since the 1980s when it was 12.8g a day, and most markedly since the 2000s. According to the researchers, this could be the result of both governmental efforts in salt awareness education and the lessened reliance on pickled food.
However, this trend of decrease was not seen in southern China, which has increased from 8.8g a day average in the 1980s to 10.2g a day in the 2010s.
The researchers reviewed potassium intake and found that in contrast to salt intake, it has been consistently low throughout China for the past four decades, with individuals of all age groups consuming less than half the recommended minimum intakes.
Lead author Monique Tan, from Queen Mary’s Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, said: “Urgent action is needed in China to speed up salt reduction and increase potassium intake. High blood pressure in childhood tracks into adulthood, leading to cardiovascular disease.
“If you eat more salt whilst you are young, you are more likely to eat more salt as an adult, and to have higher blood pressure. These incredibly high salt, and low potassium, figures are deeply concerning for the future health of the Chinese population.”
Feng J He, Professor of Global Health Research at Queen Mary University of London, added: “Salt intake in northern China declined, but is still over double the maximum intake recommended by the WHO, while salt intake actually increased in southern China.
“Most of the salt consumed in China comes from the salt added by the consumers themselves while cooking. However, there is now a rapid increase in the consumption of processed foods and of food from street markets, restaurants, and fast-food chains, and this must be addressed before the hard-won declines are offset.”
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