By John Salak –
Enough with added sugar. Cutting 20 percent of sugar from packaged foods and 40 percent from beverages could generate enormous health, economic and societal benefits, according to a host of leading medical facilities linked to the U.S. National Salt and Sugar Reduction Initiative (NSSRI).
The potential health benefits seem obvious given the consistent warnings that consuming sugary foods and beverages is linked to obesity and health issues like Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, which represent the leading cause of death in the U.S.
Consider that more than 40 percent of American adults are obese and more than 10 percent suffer from Type 2 diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Admittedly, only about seven percent of Americans over 20 years old battle cardiovascular disease, but it accounts for close to 400,000 deaths annually, the CDC reports.
“Excess sugar’s impact on obesity and diabetes is well documented, but one area that may surprise many men is how their taste for sugar can have a serious impact on their heart health,” said Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Basically, the higher the intake of added sugar, the higher the risk for heart disease.”
The growing impact of added sugar to foods and beverages is what led the NSSRI to team up with researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital, the Friedman School of Nutrition Science & Policy at Tufts University, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to build a model to show the positive impact of cutting sugar.
The model suggested that trimming 20 percent in packaged foods and 40 percent in beverages would save almost half a million U.S. lives from cardiovascular issues during the lifetime of the adult population. It also reported that 750,000 cases of diabetes would be prevented along with almost 2.5 million cardiovascular cases.
Some suggest these estimates are too conservative. Regardless, the time to act is now, according to those involved in the sugar-reduction initiative.
“Sugar is one of the most obvious additives in the food supply to reduce to reasonable amounts,” says Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, DrPH, dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science. “Our findings suggest it’s time to implement a national program with voluntary sugar reduction targets, which can generate major improvements in health, health disparities, and healthcare spending in less than a decade.”
Developing a policy and implementing a voluntary program won’t be easy, even though earlier efforts at reformulating products to reduce additives like trans fats and sodium have been successful.
It requires building public awareness and support and having the government help to monitor companies as they reduce added sugar and report their progress. The study and model, however, are seen as key drivers to move the initiative forward.
“We hope that this study will help push the reformulation initiative forward in the next few years,” said the study’s lead author Dr. Siyi Shangguan. “Reducing the sugar content of commercially prepared foods and beverages will have a larger impact on the health of Americans than other initiatives to cut sugar, such as imposing a sugar tax, labeling added sugar content, or banning sugary drinks in schools.”
Shangguan and his colleagues note the benefits of . A decade after the policy goes into effect, more than $4 billion could be trimmed off the cost of healthcare for adults ages 35 to 79 in that year alone, the model suggests. Over the lifetime of these adults, the saving in healthcare costs would amount to almost $120 billion.
If the added benefits of cutting lost productivity of Americans suffering from related diseases are factored in, the total savings generated from the implementation of the NSSRI policy tops more than $160 billion over the adult population’s lifetime.
Other countries, such as the U.K. Norway and Singapore, have already made strides in reducing added sugar in their products and beverages, leaving the U.S. noticeably behind. Yet the U.S. can make up ground quickly and even eventually lead the effort by relying on his team’s work, Shangguan speculated.
“The NSSRI policy is by far the most carefully designed and comprehensive, yet achievable, sugar-reformulation initiative in the world,” he said.