Health Minister Jerome Kennedy has been doing some interesting reading lately and hopes to encourage other people in the province to follow suit.
Kennedy admits he never paid much attention to nutrition labels, but because of a recently developed national sodium-reduction strategy, he’s taken more interest in checking the nutrients in prepared foods.
“I was at the grocery store last night and it was for the first time in my life I ever checked the sodium content on foods,” Kennedy said.
“We’re always aware, in a general way, of too much salt, but if you look at Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, we use a lot of salt in our diet,” he said.
“I was surprised when I was looking at various labels for sodium, but I think that educational component becomes very important, especially when we put it into the context of the necessity of overall good health.”
The issue of sodium reduction has been talked about for some time, but it’s been high on the agenda for federal and provincial politicians in the past year.
It became a topic of conversation earlier this year in a conference call involving provincial health ministers and the federal health minister.
Kennedy said, it was a hot topic when he represented Premier Danny Williams at a premiers’ meeting in Winnipeg Aug. 6.
“It was noted that reducing sodium intake could prevent up to approximately 24,000 cardiovascular events nationally and generate up to several billion dollars in savings,” Kennedy said.
When health ministers from across the country met in St. John’s earlier this month, the topic was on the agenda again in light of a recently developed Sodium Reduction Strategy for Canada.
Kennedy said there was some discussion about how to go about reducing dietary sodium, either through regulations or by encouraging voluntary compliance.
The consensus was to start by educating Canadians to voluntarily reduce their sodium levels to about 2,300 mgs a day.
Kennedy said 1,500 mgs is considered a daily adequate personal level, but Canadians on average are consuming about 3,400 mgs of sodium daily.
“From my perspective as the minister of health, obviously this educational component, if it works, will result in a healthier society which will mean that there will be less cost on our health-care system,” the minister said.
The other component, Kennedy said, is to encourage food manufacturers and restaurants to reduce their use of sodium.
“I guess one of the best ways you can look at it is the issue of education,” he said. “I think as we become more conscious of our health, both individually and as a society, these are the kinds of things that will take hold.”
Rather than try to enforce compliance at this stage, Kennedy believes it’s best to start by emphasizing the importance of healthy eating as something people of all ages can do to feel better, improve their health and decrease the likelihood of a heart attack.
“I don’t know whether or not the voluntary reductions will work with the industry out there. I think it will take more discussion, but I’m interested in seeing how it all plays out,” he said.
He added that it would take time to develop and enforce regulations and that can’t take place overnight.
Kennedy said sodium reduction is all part of the overall issue of healthy living.
“As Canadians, we have to take more of a preventative and wellness approach, so issues like sodium intake become important there,” Kennedy said.
When he attended World Health Organization meetings in Geneva earlier this year, Kennedy said the issue of childhood obesity was described as a global epidemic.
In this province, the minister said, efforts have been made to increase healthy snacks in schools and educate children about healthy eating.
He said his department will look at incorporating sodium reduction in its wellness strategy which promotes healthy living and deals with issues including alcohol, drugs and tobacco.
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