Written by Arabesque Lynaolu, Intern 2021

“Public health is a discipline that doesn’t get enough attention,” Program Specialist Maria Rivas of Public Health Advocates says. “I think more people are focused on medicine and politics, and so public health is sort of this field that is not quite known.” 

Public health, as the CDC defines it, is “..the science of protecting and improving the health of people and their communities.” At PHA, this is the focus they uphold and fight for statewide, be it by passing laws, reforming systems, and establishing norms that foster justice, equity, and of course, health. Their latest campaign, the Sodium Warning Icon campaign, is the next step in creating an environment that allows community members to make more informed decisions regarding their health. 

The campaign’s focus is to have an ordinance mandating all chain restaurants with more than 15 locations nationwide in the City of Sacramento to implement sodium warning icons next to menu items having more than 2,300 mg of sodium. The campaign’s mission has achieved success in places such as New York and Philadelphia, where similar health outcomes such as high blood pressure and heart disease are prevalent. According to the CDC, 3.1% of adults in Sacramento experienced a stroke in 2018, a majority of the residents that reported being in South Sacramento. 

In an effort to bring more knowledge to these statistics and its link with high sodium consumption, Sacramento Building Healthy Communities Communications Coordinator Alberto Mercado emphasizes that the first step is education. Having previous experience with work on the unsuccessful soda tax, he notes an important change.

“The fundamental difference is that we’re adding education. The education component is key,” he says. “When we don’t have the education component to it, nothing really changes in our community.”

This planned education, in the form of monthly virtual workshops, will feature information spanning a multitude of aspects pertaining to the issue. Certified experts such as nutritionists will also be present to provide an authorized voice during the education process. 

“It’s just having a series of workshops that tells them ‘Okay, what are the factors of health?’. A lot of our community members are not seeing the connection between policy and health, and that’s one of our topics,” Rivas explains, delving further into the content that will be shared. “And then moving into how most sodium consumed by Americans comes from processed and restaurant foods.” 

When asked about what communities would have the most to gain by this outreach, Rivas says, “Communities of color that are already pre-determined to consume more sodium, not because of their health behaviors, but because of their built environment, because of the way their neighborhoods are designed.” She concludes, “They would be our targeted audience: just making sure folks know that high sodium consumption is not a consequence of their own health behaviors, it’s a consequence of their built environment.” 

Post-education, the campaign has plans beyond workshops to go to Sacramento Building Healthy Communities (Sac BHC) and connect with its members, doing other legislative outreach activities, and building a coalition with other stakeholders.  However, an important part of this is having city members attend the planned workshops and engage in community-focused activities that will provide the insight needed for the ordinance proposal. 

To register and attend these completely free sessions, please contact Maria Rivas at mr@phadvocates.org.