Illinois: Supporting Sodium Reduction Strategies in Small and Rural Hospitals
Cardiovascular disease—disease that affects the heart and blood vessels—is the leading cause of death in Illinois. It is responsible for a third (more than 30,000) of all deaths in the state annually. People can help prevent cardiovascular disease by consuming less salt (sodium) in their diet. A typical hospital serves meals to inpatients, outpatients, visitors, and employees every day. Simple changes, like reducing the amount of salt hospital cafeterias use for cooking and stocking healthier snacks in vending machines, can help lower people’s risk for cardiovascular disease.
The Illinois Department of Public Health used a portion of its 2013 Preventive Health and Health Services (PHHS) Block Grant funding to help 17 hospitals make sodium reduction a priority. The Illinois Cardiovascular Health Program (ICHP) staff studied the foods available at participating hospitals to determine how healthy those options were. They also examined what hospitals were doing to help their staff, patients, and visitors consume less salt.
During 2014–2015, ICHP staff worked with the 17 hospitals to make policy changes that would reduce the amount of sodium in cafeteria foods and vending machine snacks. Changes included labeling foods to show which ones are healthier and not allowing fast food restaurants to operate inside the hospital. Several hospitals put fruit and other healthy snacks for sale next to cafeteria cash registers. Hospitals also gave patients and families information about low-salt diets and placed reminders on vending machines to encourage people to choose healthier options. At the end of the project, ICHP’s follow-up study found that the hospitals had started 213 sodium reduction projects. Some hospitals were carrying out as many as 30 concurrent projects to help decrease people’s salt consumption.
Changing people’s food choices to reduce salt intake can be done quickly and easily. The Illinois Department of Public Health hopes that the strong potential for making immediate and meaningful changes in hospital food choices will motivate other hospitals to start sodium reduction projects that provide healthier food for their patients, visitors, and staff.
Story year: 2015