Study reveals health and cost savings of mandatory added sugar labelling

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The mandatory added sugar labelling policy for packaged food and drinks set to launch in the US could improve health and generate savings, according to researchers.

The new modelling study led by Friendman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University and the University of Liverpool was the first analysis to estimate the potential health and economic impacts of the new label.

In 2016, the FDA announced several mandatory changes to the Nutrition Facts label in order to provide consumers with enhanced nutritional information.

Among the changes was adding the grams and percent Daily Value of added sugar content, which would help consumers limit calories from added sugar in accordance with the recommendations of the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Published in Circulation, the study estimates that the FDA’s added sugar label could prevent or postpone nearly 1 million cases of cardiometabolic disease, including heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes, over a 20-year period.

When combined with possible industry reformulations to reduce added sugar content in packaged foods and beverages, the label could prevent or postpone nearly 3 million cases of cardiovascular disease and diabetes over the same time period.

Cost-effectiveness of each scenario was evaluated from a healthcare perspective (accounting for policy costs and medical costs) and from a societal perspective (further accounting for informal care costs and lost productivity costs).

Both scenarios were estimated to be cost-effective within five years and cost-saving within seven years.

The analysis estimates that the added sugar label could prevent or postpone 354,400 cases of cardiovascular disease and 599,300 cases of diabetes.

It also predicts and estimated saving of $31 billion in net healthcare costs and $61.9 billion in societal costs. Policy costs were estimated to be $1.7 billion.

“The added sugar label is an important policy step toward reducing consumption of foods and beverages with high added sugar contents, improving health, and lowering healthcare spending,” said Renata Micha, the study’s co-senior and corresponding author and research associate professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University.

“These findings have important implications for individuals, policy makers and the food industry alike. Modest industry reformulation would be a powerful way to maximize potential benefits, highlighting industry’s critical role in being part of the solution.”

While some companies have begun listing added sugar content, the 2018 deadline for compliance has been extended to 2020 for large manufacturers and 2021 for small manufacturers.

“Informing consumers about what is in their sugary drinks, cakes, and sweets will help them decide what they want to eat for their health now and later,” said Martin O’Flaherty, -senior author and professor in epidemiology at the University of Liverpool.

“Full implementation of the label before 2021 could help maximise health and economic gains.”