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Simple labeling could make life much sweeter

Labeling the sugar content of soda could save $31 billion in health care costs, according to new research from Tufts University and the University of Liverpool.

In 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration mandated that companies include in food labels the amount of sugar in sweetened beverages. The rule, which has been delayed until 2020, is intended to curb new cases of Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other chronic conditions for which people who consume an unhealthy amount of sugar are at risk of developing.

“Of all sources of added sugar in the US diet, (sugar-sweetened beverages) are the largest contributor and most consistently linked to cardiometabolic risk,” the authors wrote in the study, published online Monday in the American Medical Association journal Circulation.

Through a predictive model for 2018 to 2037, researchers found that mandatory labeling could prevent 354,400 cases of cardiovascular disease and 599,300 cases of Type 2 diabetes, resulting in health care cost savings of $31 billion.

Researchers found an even greater health and financial impact if companies reformulated their drinks to have less added sugar in addition to including labeling sugar content: 708,800 cardiovascular disease cases and 1.2 million Type 2 diabetes cases avoided, with a health costs savings of more than $57 billion over the 20-year study period.

The study’s model showed that over time, labels would lead to people consuming fewer sugar drinks.

Tactics to reduce the amount of excess sugar are often met with ire by consumers. For evidence, look no further than Philadelphia’s soda tax, which went into effect at the beginning of 2017.

Various studies have found the tax reduced soda sales by as much as 57%, but others have suggested consumers are simply heading across city lines to buy soda. A survey by the American Beverage Association, which opposes the tax, found that 60% of Democratic voters in the city opposed the tax.

Still, the authors of the sugar labeling study say such efforts are essential for public health.

“Despite these ongoing efforts, added sugar intake in the United States remains high. Declaring added sugar content on the Nutrition Facts label, together with the percentage of Daily Value to help consumers contextualize such information, is a key policy opportunity to target not only (sugar-sweetened beverages), but all added sugar from all packaged products,” they wrote.

The average 12-oz soda contains at least 9 teaspoons of sugar per can. (123rf.com)