It is common knowledge that consuming too much salt is unhealthy, but did you know it can have life-threatening consequences? Consuming too much sodium can increase your blood pressure and your risk for heart disease and stroke.1 In San Diego County, approximately 1 in 4 people have been diagnosed with high blood pressure.2 Heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States, accounted for 16% of deaths in San Diego County in 2013.4
The majority of sodium that Americans consume is in packaged, processed, store-bought and restaurant foods. However, the environments in which we work, live and shop affect our access to healthier food options. In order to help prevent sodium-related chronic disease and obesity, the food industry must improve access to healthier low-sodium food.
In an effort to address the lack of access to low-sodium foods, the County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency is partnering with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (LACDPH) on a Sodium Reduction in Communities Program that is funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Sodium Reduction Initiative in San Diego (SRI) supports Live Well San Diego, the County’s vision of a region that is building better health, living safely, and thriving.
The SRI has two goals: first, to make it easier for food service operators to identify lower sodium ingredients; and second, to work with the food industry to decrease sodium levels in prepared and packaged food. The long-term intended outcome is reduced sodium intake of no more than 2,300 milligrams per day4 (about 1 teaspoon of salt).
To meet these goals, SRI is working with hospitals, universities, school districts and senior nutrition programs as they present ideal opportunities to reduce the salt intake of large sects of the population. By focusing on decreasing sodium in meals served in these settings, the SRI can help these populations avoid conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. Local partners include San Diego State University, Rady Children’s Hospital San Diego, and Sweetwater Union High School District, all Live Well San Diego partners, in addition to Aging & Independence Service’s Senior Nutrition Program.
The SRI is in its second phase. As a result of the first phase from 2014 – 2016, sodium was reduced by 16% in meals served to patients in the Psychiatric Hospital of San Diego County, and reduced by 14% in the meals offered to employees and the public at the County Operations Center cafeteria. Sodium reduction was also achieved in meals served at two senior centers, and to the adults and juveniles in County detention facilities.
The current phase of the initiative is taking sodium reduction to the next level by engaging the food industry and aligning sodium reduction efforts in San Diego County with similar efforts in Los Angeles County. If successful, the increased demand for lower sodium products will make it easier for food service operators to buy healthier ingredients resulting in more nutritious meals for all San Diegans, helping everyone Live Well! For more information on the SRI, contact Deirdre Kleske.