Why is Sodium Reduction Important?
Over three-quarters of the sodium consumed by Americans comes from processed and prepared food1 — and the average American is consuming well over the recommended daily allowance.2 Consuming too much sodium is associated with elevated blood pressure, posing health risks including heart disease and stroke, which are leading causes of death in the United States.3
Most adults in the United States consume sodium at levels far greater than the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans general recommendation of less than 2300 mg per day (even less for certain sub-populations).4
Who can use these tools?
The assessment tool and action plan are free tools available to anyone who creates an account; however, they should be completed by key staff who are aware of various aspects of food service at the site, including how food is purchased, prepared, and promoted. The six sections can be completed all at once or in sequence by respondents who may have knowledge in one area but not another.
How are these tools used?
Tool users should start by identifying the appropriate staff and partners to first accurately assess current policy and practices (Assessment Tool), and then to inform the prioritization of action items (Action Planning Tool). Each tool can be completed online in one or multiple sittings. A blank PDF version of each tool is available for download at the bottom of this section.
- First-time Assessment Tool users will complete a Pre-Assessment by responding to questions about current policy and practices in 4 areas including food guidelines/standards, purchasing, preparation, and nutrition promotion.
- Responses from the Assessment will pre-populate the Action Planning Tool. For items not currently in place, users will identify items to take action on immediately and items to take action on later.
- Following implementation of action items, users can choose to assess progress at a site by completing a Post-Assessment and comparing to the results of the site’s Pre-Assessment.
- After completing each tool, users will download a PDF version of their results. Once completed, tool responses are not saved online.
These tools can only be used to assess one type of food service setting at a time. If you would like to assess multiple settings, simply repeat the assessment and action plan process for each environment. For example, if you want to assess the vending machines and cafeteria at a University, then you should complete a separate assessment and action plan for each.
Building partnerships between public health practitioners and food service operators
Partnering with food service providers in venues such as worksite cafeterias, hospitals, and congregate food sites (such as meal delivery and elder services) presents a key opportunity to reduce sodium consumption. Yet these food service providers experience constraints and real-world challenges that can make it difficult to reduce sodium content of foods or offer lower-sodium alternatives. Time, professional training, availability of ingredients, consumer preference, and overall concerns about costs and the bottom line are important considerations when working with food service providers to reduce sodium.
In the last few years, market demands and food trends have helped to build a case for reducing sodium in the food supply. Many companies in the food industry have embarked on efforts to reduce sodium, with several meeting National Sodium Reduction initiative standards.4 And consumer interest in fresh, locally-sourced foods and “clean labels” (simplified ingredient lists on food labels) present opportunities and motivation to reduce sodium content.
The Partnering with Food Service to Reduce Sodium toolkit provides public health practitioners with a list of strategies, tools, and resources to build new and/or enhance existing partnerships with food service providers to reduce sodium in foods prepared, served, and sold. It is meant to help public health practitioners identify and engage food service providers to reduce the sodium content of food by understanding the context of food service settings as well as the language and drivers of food service providers. Case studies and success stories provide examples of stories from the field, aiming to inspire and generate ideas for implementation. Finally, tools and resources developed for public health and food service professionals are included to impart the experience and learnings of previous sodium reduction efforts.