Should the FDA require front-of-package warnings about sugar?
- The American Medical Association wants the Food and Drug Administration to adopt front-of-package warning labels for foods with high levels of added sugars, according to a statement from the group. The AMA also asked the FDA to limit how much added sugar can be allowed in foods making health or nutrition claims on the package.
- Albert J. Osbahr III, a medical doctor and a member of the AMA board of trustees, said in a release that food packaging should include more transparent information about its contents so the healthy choice can be easier. "When consumers have access to the amount of sugar they are consuming, they may choose foods with less sugar — which can help prevent debilitating chronic medical conditions, such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease, which affect millions of Americans," he said.
- In response, the Sugar Association said a warning label "does nothing but mislead consumers because it is an idea not grounded in science and does not support FDA’s rationale for setting the Daily Value in the first place." President and CEO Courtney Gaine said in a statement that this would be a "huge step backwards for nutrition education in rehashing the concept of a single-nutrient focus that has harmed this field and made no headway in the health of the public."
Added sugars are already getting their own callout on Nutrition Facts label changes going into effect in 2020 and 2021, but the AMA thinks more is needed. The medical association argues that more information is better, while the industry group counters these numbers are meaningless because there is no amount of sugar that causes adverse health impacts.
When it comes to the consumers, many say they want more ingredient information on food and beverage labels, even though they sometimes ignore it. And sugar is one ingredient consumers are wanting to limit. According to a survey from Label Insight, about 22% of consumers want to restrict their sugar intake.
Calling out added sugars on labels is one way to help in those efforts. Manufacturers have already been trying to reduce the amount of sugar in their products and have adopted a number of strategies, such as substituting sweeter stevia, adding artificial sweeteners or using newly developed types of sugar. As food and beverage makers add this information, more consumers may pay attention to it.
If the FDA also requires front-of-package warning labels for foods with high levels of added sugars, it's more likely that consumers will see them — but it might also convince them to buy products with lower amounts or no added sugar at all.
Since there is no FDA-set limit on how much sugar is too much, the industry group feels consumers may be unfairly swayed to choose less-sugary products. The group may have a point, although sugar producers probably know it would be tough for the agency to establish such a level with any degree of certainty or scientific basis.
On the other hand, the AMA knows that consuming a lot of sugar — Americans typically consume more than 13% of total daily calories from added sugars, according to the FDA — can lead to obesity, cavities, diabetes and heart problems.
As this debate swirls around them, manufacturers that use sugar in their products are trying to figure out how to stay compliant with regulations and anticipate consumer trends. Some have already limited the amount of sugar in their products, others have started using sugar substitutes and many are trying to be as transparent as possible about the process. Since these changes are already being made, consumers can pay close attention to these developments, and may make their purchasing decisions accordingly.
According to recent research, consumers continue to be concerned about sugar levels in foods and beverages. One-third of Americans link sugar with weight gain, 71% read the sugar content on ingredient labels and 46% strongly want to reduce their sugar consumption, according to a Kerry white paper. In a survey from Ingredion, 72% of consumers said having added sugars listed on the Nutrition Facts panel would negatively impact their purchase of yogurt. Almost the same amount — 71% — said the same for fruit drinks, 53% had that sentiment about cookies and 52% said it would have the same effect for snack bars.
Consumers say they want more information on product packaging and soon they will get it. Whether they will routinely check that information is another question, but if the AMA is to be successful in getting warning labels on the front of packaging, consumers need to weigh in and emphasize that it's important and helpful to them — and not confusing or misleading. Otherwise, it could look like an unnecessary regulation for the food industry without adequate justification — which might not be something the current administration will support.
- American Medical Association AMA Advocates for Transparency in Food Labeling and Packaging
- The Sugar Association Sugar Association Concerned About Misleading Labeling Effort
- Food Business News Warning labels needed for added sugars, says A.M.A.