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The FDA’s New Sugar Label Could Seriously Reduce Heart Disease and Diabetes—And Boost Longevity

Lauren Wicks
A new study from Tufts University finds just how beneficial an added sugar label can be for our health and our wallets.

Cardiovascular disease and diabetes are two leading causes of death in the US, responsible for over 715 thousand deaths in 2016 alone, yet both are preventable and reversible. And one of the major risk factors for both of these chronic diseases is a poor diet, partially due to excessive sugar consumption. This is something the FDA is hoping to address by making changes to nutrition labels that give consumers better access to the exact amount of added sugar they're eating.

The FDA mandated labeling added sugar content on all packaged foods and beverages back in 2016, and the rule is supposed to go into effect by January 1, 2020 for the biggest food manufacturers, and January 1, 2021 for everyone else. But will that new label make much of a difference?

Not only is the answer yes, but according to a new study conducted by Tufts University, the change may have far-ranging impacts on Americans' health and longevity—as well as our wallets.

This study analyzed the effects of implementing added sugars content on nutrition labels and further accounted for the effects of corresponding industry reformulation of products with fewer added sugars. The researchers calculated that between the years 2018-2037, 354,000 cases of CVD disease and 599,300 cases of diabetes could be prevented if added sugars was clearly labeled. They also found the change would save $31 billion in health care costs and help Americans gain back 727,000 quality-adjusted life years—years where one is in perfect health.

Interested in learning more about added sugars and understanding nutrition labels?

The statistics surge even higher if the food and beverage industries respond to this rule by reformulating their products to include fewer grams of added sugar. This would lead to 700,000 fewer cases of CVD disease, 1.2 million fewer cases of diabetes, 1.3 million more quality-adjusted life years, and $57 billion saved on health care.

"Clear, easy-to-understand nutrition labels help guide everyone on the path to healthy eating," says Linda Van Horn, PHD, RDN., American Heart Association volunteer expert said in a press release. "Consumers are better empowered to make more informed food choices that will help reduce their risk for heart disease and stroke and live longer, healthier lives."

Researchers for this study used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the CDC’s Wonder Database, policy and diet-disease effects from various meta-analyses, and policy and health-related costs from established sources. The lead author of this study noted their findings may be conservative and even underestimate the implications on our health and economy, as they only focused on two chronic diseases.

The bottom line: Americans currently consume an average of 300 calories from added sugars per day—the largest source being from sugary beverages, followed by baked goods, candies, and ice cream. The FDA advises consuming only 10% of our calories from added sugars, and keeping track of our intake with new labeling will hopefully become much easier.