- The New York City Health Department announced a nationwide initiative to get manufacturers to voluntarily limit sugar in packaged foods and drinks by 20% or 40% — depending on the product — by 2025. About 68% of packaged foods and beverages purchased in the U.S. contain added sugars, according to a release from NYC Health.
- The National Salt and Sugar Reduction Initiative wants to see a 20% sugar reduction in desserts, ice cream, candies, yogurt, cereals and condiments, and a 40% sugar reduction in soda, sports and fruit drinks and sweetened milk, The Wall Street Journal reported. The initiative — which adds to a salt-reduction effort launched in 2009 — includes a coalition of health departments from around the country and other nonprofits, such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest, American Heart Association, American Medical Association and Consumers Union.
- Oxiris Barbot, acting commissioner of the city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said in a release that by reformulating the products and reducing sugar content, "manufacturers are improving the quality of foods before they reach supermarket shelves, making it easier for us to make healthy choices.”
The average American eats 17 teaspoons of sugar each day — approximately 270 calories — or about five teaspoons more than recommended for a 2,000-calorie diet, according to New York City health officials. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggests limiting added sugars to 10% or less of daily caloric intake. The National Salt and Sugar Reduction Initiative wants to close that gap.
Members of the coalition said consuming too much sugar is resulting in more diabetes, cavities, obesity, hypertension and other medical conditions.
"We are considering all of the components of our diet that could potentially contribute to chronic illnesses that are affecting Americans’ ability to live their fullest lives," Barbot told the Journal. A coalition of health departments and non-profits supporting the initiative could help it make a difference.
But not everyone is on board. The Grocery Manufacturers Association responded to the initiative by saying its members already provide numerous choices to their customers when it comes to levels of sweetening.
"For many years, the food and beverage industry has responded to consumers by diversifying its portfolio to provide low sugar, no sugar and lower calorie products," the GMA told the Journal. "Our food and beverage offerings continue to evolve."
Many big food companies have committed in the past few years to reducing the sugar level in their products. For example, Nestlé has been experimenting with a patented type of hollow sugar, which the Swiss company said can reduce the need for regular sugar by as much as 40%. The company has also committed to reducing sugar in its products by an average of another 5% by 2020.
Coca-Cola debuted Coca-Cola Stevia No Sugar in New Zealand in May to meet consumer demand for less sugar, good taste and naturally sourced sweeteners. Company officials have said the drink may launch worldwide when the company can produce enough of one specific stevia glycoside to scale up.
If this initiative can push brands to make changes, it could make a tangible difference — but that won't be easy. The coalition's previous effort at getting manufacturers to reduce sodium levels had "modest results," the Journal reported. The New York City Health Department said there was a 6.8% decline in sodium levels in top-selling foods from 2009 and 2015, and the city also required sodium warnings on highly salty dishes featured on the menus of chain restaurants in the Big Apple. According to the coalition, about 30 food manufacturers agreed to try to meet the group's sodium-reduction targets.
GMO labeling and soda taxes are two other external efforts that have attempted to influence manufacturers to change their formulations or run the risk of losing business. Depending on how dedicated this coalition is and how manufacturers respond beyond the sugar reduction they've already accomplished, state and local regulations could flow from the National Salt and Sugar Reduction Initiative as they have with soda taxes and GMO labeling. It's also possible that if the initiative's pressure is successful, public health coalitions will press for additional actions from the food and beverage industry.