World Heart Day: Time to Push for Healthy Environments

By Elle Alexander

High blood pressure is known as a “silent killer” as there are no symptoms, and nearly 20% of Americans suffer from it without being aware of their condition. High sodium intake (i.e. salt) is one of the risk factors for hypertension, and 90% of children and many adults eat more sodium than recommended. Other risk factors include low physical activity and tobacco use. As a result, nearly 30% of adults in the US have hypertension, including 42% of Hispanics. How can we address this challenge of high sodium diets, low activity and tobacco? The World Heart Federation is focusing this year’s World Heart Day – which is today – to promote heart-healthy environments. This means improving environments where people live, work and play to include space for physical activity, healthy eating opportunities and areas free of tobacco smoke.

The major sources of sodium in the diet may surprise you, as a majority is already in foods before you even add any: 75% of salt comes from packaged and restaurant foods. Breads, cold cuts, pizza, poultry, soup and sandwiches are foods that are on the “watch out” list, so check the label before buying these items and choose options with lower amounts of sodium when they are available. Apps like Fooducate can also help point you to healthy choices in the grocery store.

But how do we prevent the hidden sources of sodium from happening in the first place? Food companies including Unilever, Kraft, and General Mills are reducing sodium in packaged foods, yet often without telling consumers who might otherwise think the foods tastes worse. To read more about companies reducing sodium stealthily, see my article from 2012.

The Vitality Institute is doing its share in support of this initiative, by working on guidelines for healthy workspaces. So what can you do? Start by signing the World Heart Federation’s “Heart Choices” petition to call on international leaders to prioritize heart-healthy environments where people live, work and play – and start reading those food labels!

Follow the Vitality Institute and Elle Alexander on Twitter at @VitalityInst and @ElleGHAP.

WorldHeartDay2014 - SaltySix HighRes

Image Source: The American Heart Association. Click to enlarge.

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