Manufacturers have hailed new data on falling salt consumption in the UK as evidence that reformulation efforts are paying off.

While 70% of people still consume more salt than the 6g daily limit recommended by the Department of Health, official figures showed a significant reduction in the average intake since 2001 – from 9.5g a day to 8.1g by 2011.

Men had an estimated mean intake of 9.3g per day, with women consuming 6.8g a day on average.

The results were welcomed by food manufacturers. “Since the mid 1980’s, the bread industry has been actively reducing salt in bread and as a result has reduced levels in plant-baked bread by some 40%,” said Federation of Bakers director Gordon Polson.

But health campaigners demanded more action to bring consumption levels below the 6g ceiling.

“This 1.5g reduction shows progress is happening but there is still a very long way to go,” said Professor Graham MacGregor, chairman of Consensus Action on Salt & Health.

“Our salt intakes have come down thanks to a clear set of voluntary salt targets that were developed by CASH and the Food Standards Agency, which have largely been achieved by the responsible food manufacturers.

“Unfortunately, the catering industry has largely been ignored by the salt reduction programme. Furthermore, the DoH has failed to set further salt targets for the whole of the food industry. This is essential for the success of the programme as it provides a level playing field, whereby all food companies make gradual reductions in line with each other.”

The DoH figures were based on the sodium content of urine samples from more than 500 adults collected from July to December 2011. Four out of five men (80%) and 58% of women exceeded the recommended daily dose.