Grant funding to help seniors reduce sodium intake
Seniors might not be aware of how much salt they are digesting daily, but Schenectady County aims to help them get a better grasp to reduce associated health risks.
County officials announced on Monday, Dec. 20, the county received a $120,000 grant to be used over three years from the New York State Department of Health to raise awareness of the risk of high sodium diet, focusing on the risks for seniors. Earlier in the day, State Health Commissioner Richard Daines announced the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention awarded $975,000 to the state DOH to create healthier food environments and reduce New Yorkers sodium intake. The DOH will partner with the county to implement the Sodium Reduction in Communities program.
Schenectady County is proud to be one of only six communities to receive funding for this program, said Susan Savage, chairwoman for the Schenectady County Legislature, in a statement. `We know that people who reduce sodium in their diet see improved blood pressure and reduce their risk for developing other serious health problems. We hope that seniors in Schenectady County can learn and benefit from this program.`
The county Public Health Services in collaboration with Cornell Cooperative Extension will work with senior centers serving meals and senior residential facilities to help lower sodium in meals served, said Joe McQueen, spokesman for the county. Also, the county is reaching out to restaurants frequented by seniors, such as diners and restaurants with `early bird` specials, to offer reduced sodium options for seniors.
McQueen said discussions with restaurants are in the early stages and any restaurant is welcomed to partner with the county in their initiative.
`Any restaurant that has a large senior cliental that wants to work with us on this, we would be very excited to hear from them,` said David Pratt, commissioner of Schenectady County Public Health Administration. `Restaurateurs are aware of [health concerns] and want to offer healthful, flavorful meals.`
The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the most recent, recommend an adult consume 2,300 mg of sodium per day, or 1 teaspoon of salt. Although, the guidelines continue to recommend for higher-risk adults, which include individuals with hypertension, blacks and middle age and older adults should consume no more than 1,500 mg of sodium per day and meet the potassium recommendation of 4,700 mg per day.
`I think seniors are no different than the rest of Americans,` said Pratt. `We have seen the sodium content in our foods gradually go up in the coming of the years and we have grown accustom to the increased salt intake.`
Americans consume on average 3,400 milligrams of sodium, according to DOH officials, but people aren’t adding the salt themselves because 80 percent of sodium intake is from package or processed foods, or foods purchased in restaurants.
`The bulk of the sodium we get in our diet comes from prepared and processed foods, so the salt shaker on your table is as always a concern but two-thirds of what we ingest is sodium that comes in prepared food such as soups,` said Pratt. `The people who really got a serious blood pressure problem are getting 50 percent too much (sodium).`
If people stopped and concentrated on their first sip of soup, said Pratt, he thinks they would be struck by how salty canned soup really tastes. But in a few years, the taste might change.
`We are beginning to see manufacturers make beneficial changes,` said Pratt. `This is not all doom and gloom; there is on the horizon, I think, a more alert and aware food industry.`
Consumers might also not really be aware of how high the sodium content in the meat they’re buying too. He said people concerned about their blood pressure and what meat they choose might avoid red meat and get turkey, but some grocery stores will brine the turkey breast that adds a higher level of salt into a product people think of as being more healthy.
`You really got to turn the can around and ask questions, how much salt is in there?` said Pratt about grocery shopping.
As people age their sense of smell and taste are reduced, he said, which can make the problem even more difficult for seniors.
`[Seniors] may in some ways be their own worst enemies, because when they do taste [salt], it might be much higher than it should be,` said Pratt.
Although he does think seniors are more aware of dietary issues, such as sodium, because they’re being advised by their practitioner to be more aware of the food they eat.
Besides Schenectady County, the DOH is also working with the Broome County Health Department and their community partners to implement the same program.
`If you turn [sodium] down gradually it still tastes good, but you are not getting that huge whack of sodium every day,` said Pratt.“