- A modeling study published by the American Heart Association's Circulation journal found the Food and Drug Administration's requirement that food and beverage makers list added sugars on their Nutrition Facts panels could prevent thousands of diabetes and cardiovascular disease cases and save billions of dollars between 2018 and 2037. The numbers increase if the revamped label is accompanied by industry reformulation.
- "These findings have important implications for individuals, policy makers and the food industry alike. Modest industry reformulation would be a powerful way to maximize potential benefits, highlighting industry's critical role in being part of the solution," Renata Micha, co-senior and corresponding author and a research associate professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, said in a release.
- The analysis from researchers at Tufts and the University of Liverpool is the first to look at potential economic and health impacts of the new label requirements, which go into effect in 2020 and 2021, depending on a manufacturer's annual sales. The Nutrition Facts label hasn't been updated in about 20 years.
The study is part of a collaboration funded by the National Institutes of Health and led by Tufts researchers. Their goal is to identify nutritional strategies with the most promise for improving U.S. diet and health.
Food and beverage companies may be glad to know the changes coming down the pike will do much good for public health and healthcare costs. But the labeling change isn't cheap. If they haven't already done so, companies will need to invest in developing added sugar content information and printing new labels for their products showing how much added sugars they contain — and that isn't even considering potential reformulation to reduce the amount. Researchers estimated the policy costs, which include expenses from industry reformulation, at $4.3 billion.
But those expenses will have far-reaching impact. Researchers said specifically labeling added sugars might prevent or postpone 599,300 diabetes cases and 354,400 cardiovascular disease cases during a 20-year period. They also estimated it would save $31 billion in net healthcare costs and $61.9 billion in societal costs, meaning lost productivity and informal care costs.
Many manufacturers have reformulated products to get away from large amounts of added sugars on their labels. Researchers found this could prevent or postpone 1.2 million cases of diabetes and 708,800 cases of cardiovascular disease in two decades. Cost savings associated with the change include $57.6 billion in net healthcare expenses and $113.2 billion in societal costs.
Many food and beverage makers — including Hershey, Campbell and Mondelez — anticipated the label changes and are already using the new Nutrition Facts labels on their products. Companies wanting to get ahead of these latest regulations have likely implemented as much of the new guidance as possible.
Meanwhile, companies whose products contain a large amount of added sugars may experience a backlash from concerned consumers if they don't find a way to cut down on the amount or find adequate substitutes. So while these study results may be good news, it indicates that some manufacturers' reformulation struggles may be worthwhile.