Modeling the health impact of legislation to limit the salt content of bread in Portugal: A macro simulation study

Goiana-da-Silva, Francisco; Cruz-e-Silva, David; Rito, Ana; Lopes, Carla; Muc, Magdalena; Darzi, Ara; Araújo, Fernando; Miraldo, Marisa; Morais Nunes, Alexandre and Allen, Luke N. (2022). Modeling the health impact of legislation to limit the salt content of bread in Portugal: A macro simulation study. Frontiers in Public Health, 10, article no. 876827.



Excessive salt consumption—associated with a range of adverse health outcomes—is very high in Portugal, and bread is the second largest source. Current Portuguese legislation sets a maximum limit of 1.4 g salt per 100 g bread, but imported and traditional breads are exempted. In 2017 the Ministry of Health proposed reducing the salt threshold to 1.0/100 g by 2022, however the legislation was vetoed by the European Commission on free-trade grounds.

To estimate the health impact of subjecting imported and traditional breads to the current 1.4 g threshold, and to model the potential health impact of implementing the proposed 1.0 g threshold.

We gathered bread sales, salt consumption, and epidemiological data from robust publicly available data sources. We used the open source WHO PRIME modeling tool to estimate the number of salt-related deaths that would have been averted in 2016 (the latest year for which all data were available) from; (1) Extending the 1.4 g threshold to all types of bread, and (2) Applying the 1.0 g threshold to all bread sold in Portugal. We used Monte Carlo simulations to generate confidence intervals.

Applying the current 1.4 g threshold to imported and traditional bread would have averted 107 deaths in 2016 (95% CI: 43–172). Lowering the current threshold from 1.4 to 1.0 g and applying it to all bread products would reduce daily salt consumption by 3.6 tons per day, saving an estimated 286 lives a year (95% CI: 123–454).

Salt is an important risk factor in Portugal and bread is a major source. Lowering maximum permissible levels and removing exemptions would save lives. The European Commission should revisit its decision on the basis of this new evidence.

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