Differences in the sodium content of bread products in the USA and UK

Bread rolls

The Nutrition Society Paper of the Month for December is from Public Health Nutrition and is entitled 'Differences in the sodium content of bread products in the USA and UK: implications for policy'.

Authors: Kasey J Coyne, Abigail S Baldridge, Mark D Huffman, Katharine Jenner, Dagan Xavier and Elizabeth K Dunford.

There is a well-established link between excess dietary sodium intake and high blood pressure, a leading risk factor for cardiovascular disease.  Nevertheless, the US population's average daily sodium intake greatly exceeds recommendations from both the American Heart Association and the National Academy of Medicine.  Because the vast majority of dietary sodium comes from processed foods, a population-based strategy for sodium reduction is necessary in order to meaningfully reduce sodium intake and improve national cardiovascular health.  

Bread is one of the leading contributors to dietary sodium. This study compared the sodium content in bread products in the United Kingdom (UK), which has a longstanding, well-documented and successful population-level sodium reduction program, and the United States (US), where similar initiatives have only more recently begun to emerge.  We used nutrition information from the Label Insight database for the US (www.labelinsight.com) and the FoodSwitch database for the UK (www.foodswitch.co.uk) to examine the sodium content for over 4400 US bread products and over 1600 UK bread products.  We then compared the average sodium content across different types of bread in the US to similar products in the UK. We also calculated the proportion of products that met sodium reduction targets in each country.

Our findings showed that bread products in the US have, on average, 12% higher sodium than bread products in the UK.  Moreover, a significantly smaller proportion of US bread products met sodium reduction targets compared to the UK.  These findings demonstrate not only the success of the UK's existing sodium reduction program, but also the importance and potential effect that a public health and food policy approach to sodium reduction could have on population health in the US.  Such strategies will require partnership between government and health organizations and food manufacturers, suppliers, and retailers, as well as robust and comprehensive surveillance of the nutritional content of the packaged food supply.

Photo with thanks to Luke Clark, Flickr, reproduced under a CC license