FDA Sugar Label Policy Could Dramatically Improve Health Outcomes, Study Says

The United States Food and Drug Administration has formed a new set of rules that require food manufacturers to label packaged foods and drinks with any added sugars.  While this will certainly have benefit to those consumers who have chosen to be more careful about their diet, some experts now say that this simple legislation could have substantial health and cost benefits to the country, too. And these benefits could be visible in as little as twenty years. 

With a computer model, researchers investigated the labeling policy that will go into effect starting next year.  This model suggests that these labels could prevent as many as 1 million cases of heart disease and cancer. Study co-author Renata Micha explains, “Our study is the first to estimate the potential health and cost-saving benefits of the FDA’s added sugar labeling.”

The Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science research associate professor goes on to say, “We found that, over the next 20 years, the impact of the FDA’s added sugar labeling 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.”

Micha expounds that if this labeling effort encourages the food industry to reduce [added] sugar content, the benefits could compound. 

The computer models took data from the National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey. This annually measures a nationally representative sample (approximately 5,000 people) in regards to health and nutrition statistics.  Of course, in this particular case, the researchers were looking at the 24-hour dietary intake of adults between the ages of 30 and 84.

In these models, the research team assesses that the labels would result in a nearly 7 percent decrease in [added] sugar intake.  If companies would reformulate their products, they estimate, it could result in an additional 8.25 percent reduction to sugar intake. 

At the end of the day, Micha suspects that the data could be actually realized if we go through with new labeling across the board.  She notes, “Our work and that of others, including recent experience with trans-fat labeling in the U.S., suggests that mandating labeling of added sugar content would stimulate the food industry to reduce sugar in their products. Some companies are already reformulating their products to reduce added sugar content, partly driven by the consumer’s demand for healthier products.”