Availability and Price of Low-Sodium Condiments and Instant Noodles in the Bangkok Metropolitan Region

Chanatip Chailek, MD, Phanthanee Thitichai, MD, MPH, Hirunwut Praekunatham, MD, DrPH, Pantila Taweewigyakarn, MD, MPH, Thanawadee Chantian, MD, MPH

Introduction: Excess sodium consumption can cause hypertension. One component of Thailand's 5-part strategy to reduce sodium intake is reform of the food environment to increase access to low-sodium foods. Our research aimed to describe the availability and price of low-sodium food products in retail stores in the Bangkok Metropolitan Region.

Methods: In June and July 2021, we used multistage cluster sampling to conduct a cross-sectional study of the availability of low-sodium foods. Availability referred to a retail store offering at least 1 version of low-sodium condiment or instant noodles. We applied the Thai Healthier Choice criteria and World Health Organization (WHO) global benchmark as the low-sodium criteria for these products. We surveyed 248 retail stores in 30 communities in 6 districts in the Bangkok Metropolitan Region. We observed store shelf availability and price by using a survey form and used the Fisher exact test and independent t test to compare availability and price by sodium content and store size.

Results: All subcategories of low-sodium condiments, except black soy sauce in small stores, were less available than regular-sodium condiments. The proportional difference ranged from 11.3% to 90.6% (P < .001). We found no difference in the 4 condiment subcategories, including fish sauce, thin soy sauce, seasoning sauce, and oyster sauce in large stores. Low-sodium versions of instant noodles were unavailable in either large or small stores. The price of low-sodium condiments was 2 to 3 times higher than that of regular-sodium condiments (P < .05).

Conclusion: Low-sodium food options are not generally available in the Bangkok Metropolitan Region, and access to them is inequitable because of pricing. Instant noodles, a popular food, were unavailable in low-sodium versions. Their reformulation should be promoted. Government subsidies of the price of commonly used low-sodium condiments could increase their use and reduce sodium consumption overall.