Monday, October 29, 2007

The Hypocrisy of the Heart and Stroke Foundation

You know, it upsets me to have to write these posts about the Heart and Stroke Foundation. They are a tremendous organization and are advocacy champions for a healthy lifestyle and tireless fund raisers in support of much needed valuable research into the treatment and prevention of cardiovascular disease.

Unfortunately, their organization and affiliated organizations, while exemplary in many aspects, also suffer from some egregious shortcomings - shortcomings that dramatically undermine their own solid recommendations to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight and reduce dietary sodium consumption.

By means of introduction, let's start with something positive - the National Sodium Policy statement that was released last week and endorsed by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada.

The statement, available online here, calls for a dramatic reduction in sodium intake by the year 2020. According to the statement, here's why:

  • The World Health Organization estimates hypertension is the leading risk factor for death.

  • Hypertension is the most frequent diagnosis for Canadian adults visiting a family physician.

  • Antihypertensive therapy is one of the most expensive categories of medications.

  • In Canada almost 46% of women and 38% of men aged 60 and over are taking antihypertensive medications.

  • Hypertension is a multi-factorial condition associated with obesity, family history, physical inactivity, alcohol, smoking and dietary factors, including high sodium intake.

  • Limited attention has been focused on the importance of reducing dietary sodium as a key measure in reducing the risk for and management of hypertension.

  • The average Canadian diet contains about 3500 mg of sodium per day.

  • The Tolerable Upper Intake Level for sodium intake for health is 2300mg per day as recommended by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies.

  • It is estimated that one million Canadians have hypertension caused by excess dietary sodium and that this generates more than 430 million dollars per year in direct health care costs.

  • Reducing dietary sodium intake within the context of a healthy diet can substantially reduce the incidence of hypertension among Canadians who have normal blood pressure. Therefore a population health approach to reducing dietary sodium is an appropriate strategy.
  • The report also provides sodium intake targets by age and I'm going to highlight 3 age groups:

  • Ages 4-8 - 1,200mg daily
  • Ages 9-50 - 1,500mg daily
  • Ages 50-70 - 1,300mg daily

  • So just how great would it be if we were actually able to achieve that type of sodium reduction? According to the policy statement this would:

  • Prevent 1 in 7 stroke deaths
  • Prevent 1 in 11 coronary heart disease deaths
  • Prevent 1 in 14 of all deaths
  • Prevent 1 in 6 cases of high blood pressure

  • Stay tuned this week as I revisit how despite their signature on the National Sodium Policy statement, the Heart and Stroke Foundation's Health Check program allows you to meet your total daily sodium requirements in one meal, how Health Check advertises and pushes junk food on your children, and how Health Check blindly avoids considering Calories or sugar ingredients worth actually checking.