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National Sugar Reduction Initiative Is Good for Consumers and Business

July 30, 2019
A U.S. coalition asks the food and beverage industry to voluntarily reduce added sugar.

About the Author: Andrea Sharkey is the project manager for the National Salt and Sugar Reduction Initiative in the Bureau of Chronic Disease Prevention and Tobacco Control in the Division of Prevention and Primary Care at the New York City Dept. of Health and Mental Hygiene.

The National Salt and Sugar Reduction Initiative (NSSRI), a partnership of more than 100 local, state, and national health organizations convened by the New York City Health Dept., is encouraging the food and beverage industry to voluntarily lower the sugar in their packaged products.

In fall 2018, the food and beverage industry was invited to provide feedback on proposed targets for sugar reduction. A second comment period is now open, and companies are invited to submit feedback on the revised targets.

Urgent action to lower sugar in packaged foods and beverages is needed. Intake of added sugars is associated with increased risk of excess weight, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, stroke, heart disease and cavities. The current intake is high. Americans consume the equivalent of about 17 teaspoons of sugar per day on average, compared to the recommended limit of less than 12 teaspoons per day, for a 2,000 calorie diet.

Youth are especially at risk. Currently, 68% of packaged foods and beverages purchased in the U.S. contain added sugars, making it challenging for consumers of all ages to stay within the recommended limits.

Diet-related disease is complex, and there is a suite of national, local and industry efforts to improve Americans’ diets through consumer behavior change, including education and policy. The NSSRI is unique in that it provides flexibility in how industry can meet the sugar reduction targets while setting a level playing field for companies working in the same product categories.

The objective of the NSSRI is to promote voluntary, gradual, achievable, meaningful and measurable reductions in sugar content. Companies may choose to reformulate existing products, introduce new ones or shift an existing portfolio to emphasize products with lower sugar content. The result will be increased consumer choice for customers and, ideally, improved health.

Consumers are checking labels for the sugar content in foods and beverages and understand the health impact associated with too much added sugar, and many food & beverage companies are working to meet consumer demands. Food and beverage companies that contribute to the development of the targets and commit to meeting them have the opportunity to stay at the forefront of national trends and help create a healthier food supply.

The NSSRI aims to harness this momentum by providing an opportunity for all members of the food & beverage industry to strive toward a broad, consistent set of targets. Upon finalization of the targets, companies will have an opportunity to publicly commit to meeting interim sugar targets by 2022, and final targets by 2025.

The NSSRI builds on the engagement and success of the National Salt Reduction Initiative (NSRI), which used the same target-setting framework to reduce salt in the food supply. Nearly 30 companies publicly committed to meeting the sodium targets, ranging in scale from large public corporations to privately owned companies. A reduction in the amount of sodium, by food weight, of nearly 7% was observed among top selling processed foods from 2009 to 2014.

In 2016, the FDA proposed voluntary sodium reduction goals, which were in part informed by the NSRI. Companies that followed the NSRI targets may be a step ahead of their competition when the FDA releases its final guidance.

The food and beverage industry has the capacity to be innovative, flexible and able to create a healthier food supply. Making products healthier helps customers, workers and our nation.

With the opening of the second comment period, companies are once again invited to submit feedback on the revised targets. With your help, industry and the public health community can work together on an initiative that will be good for consumers’ health and good for business.

To review the revised sugar targets and submit comments, visit www.nyc.gov/health/nssri or email [email protected].

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of Food Processing. 

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