Social networks play a significant role in shaping behaviours to reduce salt intake in children

Social networks have been found to play a significant role in shaping behaviours to reduce salt intake in children as demonstrated by the research group led by Professor Yangfeng Wu, Honorary research fellow at The George Institute China and the Deputy Director of the Peking University Clinical Research Institute. The findings have been published on the British Medical Journal (BMJ).

High sodium intake has been cited as one of the top risk factors contributing to the global disease burden of cardiovascular disease (CVD), which is a major cause of death globally despite substantial improvement in CVD treatment. Although healthy behavioural changes, such as reducing salt intake, have been found to be crucial in curbing the global CVD pandemic, explicit mechanisms for effective behavioural interventions remain largely unknown.

School-EduSalt is one of the few randomised trials worldwide that demonstrated a successful reduction of 25% in salt intake among children and families through a school-based education. Leveraging on this successful intervention strategy, this study explored the scores assessing salt-reduction behaviours (SRB) by involving 603 children across 14 classes in 14 primary schools in Changzhi, Shanxi. The study further analysed the relationship between SRB and social networks of children. It is also the first to explore the role of social networks in salt-reduction behaviours.

Key findings

  • Children from families with more family members not supporting salt reduction had significantly lower SRB* scores (p<0.0001)
  • Children from a class with a smaller size and from a class with more friendship connections, as well as children having more friends within the class all showed higher SRB scores (all p<0.05)
  • Children whose school teachers attended the intervention programme more frequently also had higher SRB scores (p=0.043)
  • Family network, especially family support, could play a more important role in shaping the behaviours of children to reduce salt intake, compared with peer and teacher networks

“This study provides new evidence on how to design effective behavior change programmes to reduce salt intake from a social network perspective. Future salt-reduction programmes may benefit from strategies that actively engage families and teachers, and strategies that enhance interconnectivity among peers.” Professor Wu said.