A label showing added sugars content on all packaged foods and sugary drinks could have substantial health and cost-saving benefits in the United States over the next 20 years, according to a new study published in the American Heart Association's journal Circulation. Using a validated model, researchers were able to estimate a significant reduction in cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes cases from 2018 to 2037, if such a mandated addition to the Nutrition Label was implemented.
Poor diet, especially with overconsumption of sugar, is a known, preventable cause of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced an added sugars-labeling requirement on the Nutrition Facts label in 2016.
"The purpose of our study was to estimate the impact of the FDA's added sugars label on reducing sugar intake and preventing diabetes and cardiovascular disease," says Renata Micha, R.D., Ph.D., of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Boston. "Our results indicate that timely implementation of the added sugars label could reduce consumption of foods and beverages with added sugars, which could then lead to an improvement in health and a reduction in healthcare spending."
The study was conducted as part of a National Institutes of Health-funded initiative, Food-PRICE, at Tufts University to identify nutrition strategies that can have the greatest impact on improving diet and health in the U.S.
The researchers predict that between 2018 and 2037, the added sugars label would prevent more than 354,000 cardiovascular disease cases and lead to almost 600,000 fewer cases of type 2 diabetes. The estimated reduction in net healthcare costs would be more than $31 billion, after policy costs have been factored in, and not including societal costs, such as lost productivity.
"We and others have shown that food labeling can be an effective strategy to support informed consumer choice and effectively change consumer behavior," said Micha.
The study authors believe that the added sugars label would likely encourage food and beverage-makers to reformulate their products. As a result, they calculate the impact to be twice as great as having the added sugars label alone, at more than 700,000 fewer cases of cardiovascular disease and 1.2 million fewer diabetes cases, with net healthcare cost savings of more than $57 billion.
In explaining the potential effect that a mandated added sugars label would have on sugar content, Micha points to recent experience with food manufacturers who reduced or removed trans fats from their products following trans-fat labeling on products in the U.S. "That suggests that mandated labeling of added sugars content would stimulate the food industry to reduce sugar in their products," she said.
"Clear, easy-to-understand nutrition labels help guide everyone on the path to healthy eating," says Linda Van Horn, PHD, RDN., American Heart Association volunteer expert and Professor and Chief of Nutrition in the Department of Preventive Medicine at the Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, in Chicago. "Consumers are better empowered to make more informed food choices that will help reduce their risk for heart disease and stroke and live longer, healthier lives."
Although there have been recent declines in sugar consumption, mainly from sugary drinks, Americans still consume more than 300 calories per day from added sugar. The largest single source is sugary drinks, followed by cookies, cakes and pastries, candies and ice cream.
"Our findings may be conservative and underestimate the full health and economic impacts. The model only evaluated health benefits and cost-savings from diabetes and cardiovascular disease outcomes," said Micha, who added that impact on other health concerns could further contribute to health benefits and reduced costs.