A new initiative aims to stop Chinese from eating too much salt, which can cause hypertension, a condition found in one-third of Chinese adults.
Action on Salt China (ASC), a four-year anti-sodium crusade, launched Wednesday in Beijing. The British-Chinese project aims to lower salt content in food that is home-cooked, processed, or prepared in restaurants.
On average, Chinese people consume about 11 grams of salt each day, more than double the 5 grams recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). ASC hopes to achieve a 30 percent lower average intake by 2025.
To do that, organizers will promote the self-recording of salt intake, call on restaurants to desalinize their menus, and study other effective methods. During its first year, the project plans to develop “a comprehensive, effective, and sustainable national salt reduction program,” ASC China director Zhang Puhong told Sixth Tone.
ASC is a cooperation between the George Institute China, a nonprofit research institute affiliated with Peking University Health Science Center and Queen Mary University of London. Three health-related departments of the Chinese government will also participate in the project.
High salt intake is associated with elevated blood pressure and increased risks of stroke and cardiovascular, kidney, and other chronic diseases. More than 335 million Chinese adults had hypertension in 2010.
The WHO have found that reducing salt intake is a highly cost-effective measure to improve health. “By decreasing salt consumption, almost 1 million mortality rates caused by stroke, heart attack, and heart failure can be decreased each year,” said Graham MacGregor, a professor at Queen Mary University of London and the director of ASC, during the program’s launch event.
Compared with European and North American countries, where processed foods are the main culprit responsible for high-sodium diets, Chinese people’s own cooking is the source of 80 percent of their salt consumption.
“The most difficult task is to raise people’s awareness on this issue,” said ASC China director Zhang, who is also a professor at the George Institute. Rural residents in particular have low health awareness and are reluctant to change their habits, he added.
The George Institute has previously researched how to reduce people’s salt intake. In a one-year study in the northern province of Shanxi, some students were asked to record their family’s salt consumption. The findings resulted in families reducing their per capita salt intake by 2 to 3 grams more than families of students who only received lectures on the harmful effects of eating too much salt.
“Sometimes parents do not pay much attention to their own diet and health, but they care about their children’s,” said Zhang. “Most people have no idea how much sodium they actually consume each day.”
Editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.
(Header image: Cured meat is hung on a wall to dry outside a restaurant in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, Dec. 2, 2008. An Xin/VCG)