At Manna House, community health outreach worker Jessica Garrett checks the blood pressure of Schvel Mack, 40, who is taking blood-pressure medication. The cooks at the Manna House soup kitchen in Baltimore routinely prepare low-salt meals, only to watch most of those sitting at the tables reach for the salt shaker. But that ingrained habit could be broken as the Baltimore Health Department teams up with Manna House and others in an educational program to curb consumption of the mineral so closely linked to cardiovascular disease, the nation's No. 1 killer and an especially intractable problem in poorer neighborhoods. Proponents of the effort say a modest reduction in salt consumption could save 700 lives here a year.The just-launched effort could get a boost from New York City, which last week announced a goal, supported by state and local health officials, of reducing salt used in restaurants and packaged foods by 25 percent in five years. Officials say that could save 850,000 lives annually nationwide. Those in public health say that, over time, the multipronged, multicity effort could begin to chip away at the problem. "The popular foods like fried fish and fried chicken are really salty, so initially we'll meet resistance," said Samuel Enos, who runs Manna House's men's health initiative. "But everyone is joining to make people aware that high salt intake causes heart disease, and eventually people will recognize it." With health department funding, Manna House will work on education. It has also begun offering blood-pressure screenings and plan to offer them soon at local barber shops. Those who have high readings will be referred to subsidized city health care, with a goal of reducing the 20-year disparity in life expectancy between richer and poorer neighborhoods. The city is initiating other educational programs based on the recommendations issued this fall by the Baltimore City Salt Reduction Task Force. Officials will reach others through churches and community health workers, and will initiate a program that gives awards to restaurants that offer nutritional information.
Jed Kirschbaum, Baltimore Sun