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China’s Costly Love Affair With Salt

Traditional Chinese food is famous throughout the world for its deliciously rich and varied flavours. But those flavours can come at a heavy cost, because the salt content of some Chinese food can be among the highest in the world.

Medical research has established that excessive salt intake can lead to high blood pressure, which is a major cause of stroke and heart attacks. In China, cardiovascular disease is already the leading cause of death and will account for four million deaths per year by 2020. Statistics from the World Health Organization estimate that from 2006 to 2015, the cost of heart disease, stroke and diabetes in China will hit US$558 billion.

Current trends do not give any grounds for optimism, says Jacqui Webster, Senior Project Manager of the Australian Division of World Action on Salt and Health (AWASH) at The George Institute for Global Health. “In countries like China there is a trend away from traditional diets towards imported and processed food.  There is also a greater tendency to eat out, particularly in urban areas, which contributes to increased salt consumption.”

AWASH has successfully lobbied many large food companies to reduce the salt content of their products and meals, and has also raised public awareness through the media.
The China Salt Reduction Institute (CSRI), co-hosted by The George Institute in China, and the Peking University Health Science Center, is about to launch a national salt reduction campaign in late 2010.

The campaign brings together professionals from medicine, science, the food industry, media, consumer associations, government and non-governmental organisations in China. They have a primary objective of reducing the average amount of salt consumed in China by 5g per day over the next 10 years.

The George Institute for Global Health, China has also encouraged the use of salt substitutes. These have been shown to reduce blood pressure levels compared to regular salt in some Chinese rural communities including in Tibet.

World Action on Salt and Health (WASH), established in 2005, aims to reduce the level of salt in processed foods as well as the amount of salt added during cooking and at the dinner table. At present, WASH has 379 members from over 80 countries and the support of the WHO. For more information on WASH, please visit their website.