Scholarship | Hypertension Prevention and Management

Natalie Stein

Exercise, Fitness & Nutrition Expert | Lark Health

Hypertension is a major chronic disease in the United States today, and is the leading risk factor for stroke. Not only that, it is also a contributor for heart attack, dementia, kidney disease, and vision loss. As a dietetics major, I firmly believe in food as medicine; and that dietary habits can have a significant impact on health. The initiative that I hope to see happen throughout more of the country one day focuses mostly on lifestyle modifications that deal with changing one’s eating habits and learning about which foods contribute to hypertension. The initiative is comprised of three steps. The first is to implement health and wellness days regularly into businesses and corporations. These are for public health workers to come in and take the blood pressure of employees and talk to those who are prehypertensive or in either stage of hypertension; it also is for educating about risk factors of hypertension and what condition can lead to. The second step of the initiative is for employees who want to lower their blood pressure to be paired up with a dietitian to help them make modifications in their diet and lifestyle. The third step is to have follow-up health and wellness days. This serves to take the blood pressure of employees once again to track progress, allow others to begin the program, and to continue education about hypertension.

Health and wellness days are important to have employees participate in because a factor of developing a chronic disease is simply being unaware of your health and habits as you age. By having someone come in and take the blood pressure of employees, they are being evaluated and educated face to face about their health. A risk group for hypertension are adults 50 years and older. As you age, your blood vessels become more narrow and rigid; this causes your heart to work harder and your blood pressure increases, as well as your risk of developing hypertension. A second large contributor to raised blood pressure is the amount of sodium Americans consume from day to day. Most of the sodium people consume everyday comes from adding it during cooking, processed retail foods, and mixed dishes such as pizza, hamburgers, and pasta dishes. By assigning dietitians to employees in the program, they can be provided with help to reduce their sodium intake either by removing certain foods from their diet, becoming accustomed to not adding as much salt to their foods, and by learning about replacing certain foods with low sodium alternatives. An example of this would be switching from white bread to wheat bread,

choosing fresh and frozen vegetables from the store instead of canned, and/or choosing fresh or frozen lean meats instead of processed meats. Allowing dietitians to come in and educate the workplace about hypertension is also important so that people are aware of where all of their sodium is coming from, and how they can avoid it. Finally, the follow-up health and wellness days are to ensure a continuing progress with prevention and management of hypertension.

I believe that an initiative such as this would provide a substantial impact in decreasing the number of Americans with hypertension and prehypertension. It is important to educate the public about hypertension and healthy ways of eating without developing high blood pressure. As people grow older they can avoid an exponential amount of problems by watching the sodium content in their diet; and live a longer, happier life.