Sodium and Potassium Intake, the Sodium to Potassium Ratio, and Associated Characteristics in Older Adults, NHANES 2011-2016



      Sodium, potassium, and the balance between these 2 nutrients are associated with hypertension and cardiovascular disease, and prevalence of these conditions increases with age. However, limited information is available on these intakes among older adults.


      Our aim was to explore the socioeconomic and health factors associated with usual sodium and potassium intakes and the sodium to potassium (Na:K) ratio of older adults.


      This was a cross-sectional, secondary analysis of the 2011-2012, 2013-2014, and 2015-2016 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.


      This study included the data of 5,104 adults 50 years and older, with at least one reliable 24-hour dietary recall and an estimated glomerular filtration rate ≥60 mL/min/1.73 m2.

      Main outcome measures

      Sodium and potassium intake, as absolute intake, density (per 1,000 kcal) and ratio of Na:K intake.

      Statistical analyses

      We used t tests and χ2 tests to examine significant differences in intakes on a given day by characteristics. Linear and logistic regression models were used to assess associations of socioeconomic and health characteristics with usual sodium and potassium intakes, determined using the National Cancer Institute method.


      Only 26.2% of participants consumed <2,300 mg sodium (16.2% of men and 35.2% of women) and 36.0% of men and 38.1% of women consumed at least 3,400 mg and 2,600 mg of potassium, respectively. Fewer than one-third of participants consumed a Na:K ratio of <1.0. Women, those with lower blood pressure, and those with a lower body mass index were more likely to have a ratio <1.0.


      Participants consumed too much sodium and not enough potassium, based on current recommendations. A higher Na:K ratio was significantly associated with established risk factors for cardiovascular disease. The study findings suggest that more research on cardiovascular health should include both sodium and potassium, as well as balance between these nutrients.


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      A. Vaudin is a postdoctoral researcher, Department of Nutrition and Food Science, University of Maryland, College Park.


      E. Wambogo is a nutrition epidemiologist, Department of Nutrition and Food Science, University of Maryland, College Park.


      A. J. Moshfegh is a supervisory nutritionist, Food Surveys Research Group, US Department of Agriculture, Washington, DC.


      N. R. Sahyoun is a professor of nutritional epidemiology, Department of Nutrition and Food Science, University of Maryland, College Park, MD.

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