‘Added sugar’ labels could improve health

The US is to introduce a new nutrition label highlighting the amount of sugar added to food and drink during its production, which researchers say could make big health and economic improvements.

The labels were first proposed by America’s National Food and Drug Administration in 2016, but will now become mandatory between 2020 and 2021.

According to the study, published in the journal, Circulation, this policy change could save money as well as lives. “We found that, over the next 20 years, the impact of the FDA’s added sugar labelling to nudge consumer choices could save nearly 1 million cases of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, $31 billion in net healthcare costs, and $62 billion in societal costs,” says study coauthor, Renata Micha.

A comparison of the old and new nutrition labels. Image: US FDA

These estimates were derived from a simulation based on a national health and nutrition survey applied to a 20-year period from 2018.

The hope is that the labelling policy will prompt producers to reduce the amount of sugar added to food. A simulation found this would reduce the number of disease cases by double compared to consumer habit change alone.

“The industry should be part of the solution” says Micha. “We saw when we did account for even a modest industry reformulation, maximum health and economic gain can be achieved.”

While the simulation results are encouraging, it still relies on some assumptions that aren’t proven, says Dr. Rekha Kumar, medical director of the American Board of Obesity Medicine. “What I think is the biggest assumption is that people will know how to read the food labels and will actually read them.”

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