Health Departments Set Goals for Sugar Reduction

By Dave Fusaro, Editor in Chief

Nov 16, 2018

The New York City Health Dept. in October announced a national but voluntary effort to reduce sugar in packaged foods by 20 percent by 2025. The agency now asks the food & beverage industry to submit comments about the feasibility of the targets, with the goal of announcing final targets sometime next year.

Actually, a coalition of nearly 100 health departments and health organizations around the country came up with the targets for reducing sugar in categories such as breakfast cereals and yogurt. They call themselves the National Salt and Sugar Reduction Initiative (NSSRI).

"Ultimately, this is a voluntarily initiative, but we did a similar one around salt a few years ago that led to a 7% reduction in sodium in packaged foods and included several major companies, including Goya, Heinz, Unilever, Boar’s Head, and Campbell Soup," said a spokesperson for the health dept.

NSSRI is advocating for lowering the amount of sugar in 13 food & beverage categories: sweetened milk and milk substitutes; breakfast pastries; cakes; cookies; dry mixes; dairy-based and frozen desserts; sweet candies; chocolate candies; breakfast cereals; condiments; dessert syrups and toppings; yogurt; and sugary drinks. Targets were set for sugar reduction in each category and recommendations were released to the food & beverage industry with a request for comment.

Currently, 68 percent of packaged foods and beverages purchased in the U.S. contain added sugar, making it difficult for individuals to reduce their sugar consumption. Intake of added sugars is associated with increased risk of excess weight, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, stroke, heart disease, and cavities.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting consumption of added sugars to 10 percent or less of daily caloric intake, the equivalent of about 12 teaspoons (approximately 200 calories) of added sugars for a 2,000 calorie diet, but the average American consumes about 17 teaspoons (approximately 270 calories) of added sugars each day, the agency reports.

“By reformulating products to reduce the sugar content, manufacturers are improving the quality of foods before they reach supermarket shelves, making it easier for us to make healthy choices,” said Acting Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot.

NSSRI released two targets for each category based on sugar density: a sales-weighted mean and a maximum upper limit. The sales-weighted mean would reduce the average sugar content across all products in each category; for most categories, it is based on a 20 percent reduction from the category’s baseline. The maximum upper limit would reduce the amount of sugar in the products with the highest sugar content within each category. Updated NSSRI targets will be released in 2019, and participating companies will commit to achieving the targets by 2025.

The NSSRI started with a focus on sodium in 2009. Then called the National Salt Reduction Initiative (NSRI), nearly 30 food companies committed to work towards NSRI-established sodium targets, including some of the nation’s largest manufacturers. Between 2009 and 2015, there was a 6.8 percent reduction in sodium levels among top selling processed foods, demonstrating that meaningful reformulation of food products is achievable within a short time period.

Processors, see nyc.gov/health or email sugar@health.nyc.gov.

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