Balancing diet, nutrition and health

The first week of March marks the start of Salt Awareness Week, a national and global initiative which has been fighting to reduce salt consumption for 19 years. Excessive salt consumption can contribute to high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease, and stands alongside other potentially fatal dietary factors.

According to Public Health England, by the time children are ten years old they have exceeded the maximum sugar intake of an 18-year-old. Additionally, there are around 200,000 new Type 2 diabetes diagnosed every year. With these problems facing quality of life and healthcare provision, what is being done about tackling health problems brought on by diet?

How diet affects health

Food and nutrition are common to everyone – we all have to make daily food choices which affect our health. Complicating this is a constant stream of advice on good foods, bad foods and even ‘superfoods’ to contend with. Added to this are government guidelines on physical activity and revised food group proportions that see just one in five people meeting the daily ‘5 a day’ recommendation.

The risks of getting it wrong or ignoring this element of our health are vast. They range from tiredness and vitamin deficiency at one end of the scale, to obesity, Type 2 diabetes, heart attack and strokes at the other. Given diet and nutrition’s essential and universal nature, we must clarify our advice and stance.

The challenge so far

Taking the example of salt, previous efforts by authorities and bodies including Action on Salt have reduced daily intake from 8g to 6g and so prevented an estimated 8000 premature deaths. Consumers are aware and reducing what they add to their food, but the retail and ‘out of home’ sector is lagging behind and has their part to play.

While estimates state that a 1g reduction in salt intake could save the NHS £1.5 billion per year, there has been mixed progress on this since the government set targets to be met by 2017. While the Food Standard Agency’s programme saw a 20-50% reduction in the salt content of many products between 2003 and 2011, progress has since stalled.

Promoting healthy living in the pharmacy

Dietary-dependent conditions like Type 2 diabetes can be lifelong, so the pharmacy will be ever-present for some patients’ journeys. Unfortunately, some research indicates that there is a gap in support when customers turn to pharmacies for general nutritional advice.

Medication, as always, is a natural point of interaction. Not only do some diet-induced conditions require drugs, but on the other hand some, such as antidepressants and oestrogen, can actually cause weight gain. Both provide an opportunity for pharmacists to monitor patients day-to-day.

There’s a wealth of information available, and practical tips can range from leaflets and posters to monitoring medication misuse and stocking licensed weight loss aids.

Sticking to a diet, for medical or lifestyle reasons, isn’t easy. In addition to this, advice changes, so pharmacies should be a force for consistent support; a creative and proactive champion for change.

List of helpful resources

GOV.UK

Change4Life

NHS – Eat well

British Nutrition Foundation