There’s no denying that the average American has a little bit of a sweet tooth. Globally, the United States ranks number one for the average daily sugar consumption at 126.4 grams per person. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 36 grams per day for men, and 25 grams per day for women. Consuming too much added sugar has been linked to many different health problems. This includes type 2 diabetes, heart disease and dental problems, just to name a few. It’s no surprise that sugar consumption has come into the crosshairs of public health advocates. There’s been a push for better awareness and better nutrition information in order to help curb this epidemic. 

New Nutrition Label

In May of 2016, Michelle Obama stood on stage at a health summit in Washington and unveiled the updated nutrition facts panel. I don’t think anyone could have guessed what a rollercoaster the next few years leading up to compliance would be. One of the biggest areas of controversy with the new labels is the added sugars declaration. This was meant to increase transparency in product labeling and improve nutrition information by adding an extra line to separate naturally occurring sugars from sugar intentionally added to the product. It proved to be trickier than originally anticipated. Numerous questions came from the industry and led to delays from the original enforcement date. The FDA just announced another 6-month extension, trying to appease manufacturers who were working on updating the updates. 

Redefining “Healthy”

Alongside the revamped nutrition label, the FDA is working on a revised definition for the “healthy” claim on food. The healthy definition has historically targeted fat without taking into consideration the food’s full nutritional profile. The updated criteria will likely focus more on food groups, while maintaining criteria for nutrients of concern, like added sugars. The FDA sent their proposed rule to the Office of Management and Budget in late August. It could be released to the public as early as this month. In the meantime, food manufacturers are already finding themselves in hot water for health-related claims being made for high-sugar products. Kellogg’s just settled a false advertising lawsuit for $20 million over their use of terms like “healthy,” “nutritious,” and “wholesome,” to promote cereal brands that have substantial amounts of added sugar. The company has agreed to stop making health claims on products with controversial nutrition information. 

Sugary Beverage Taxes

While the new nutrition label and “healthy” definition have targeted added sugars at the federal level, many local governments have also taken it upon themselves to try decreasing sugar consumption among their own populations. One such approach was a sugary beverage tax, which has now reached nine cities across the country. Berkeley, California was the first city to pass such a tax in 2015, adding 1 cent/oz of sugary drinks purchased. Since then, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Albany (California), Boulder, Cook County (Illinois), Portland and Seattle all followed. Research surrounding the effectiveness of these taxes is mixed. Some studies reporting large decreases in sugar consumption. Others show increases in drink purchases made in neighboring cities and counties to those where the tax is in effect. We have not yet seen any sign of manufacturers improving their nutrition information to decrease the amount they’re being taxed. 

Whether it’s shopping at a grocery store, grabbing a drink and snack from a gas station, or ordering at a restaurant, public health advocates want added sugar information to play a major role in that decision making. Given its overabundance in the food supply and strong science to back its removal, targeted approaches at decreasing added sugar consumption are here to stay. Industry leaders should take note and start thinking twice before adding any more new sugary treats to their product lines.