BOSTON – Cutting 20% of sugar from packaged foods and 40% from beverages could prevent 2.48 million cardiovascular disease events (such as strokes, heart attacks, cardiac arrests), 490,000 cardiovascular deaths, and 750,000 diabetes cases in the U.S. over the lifetime of the adult population, reports a study published in Circulation.
A team of researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), 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 (NYC DOH) created a model to simulate and quantify the health, economic, and equity impacts of a pragmatic sugar-reduction policy proposed by the U.S. National Salt and Sugar Reduction Initiative (NSSRI). A partnership of more than 100 local, state and national health organizations convened by the NYC DOH, the NSSRI released draft sugar-reduction targets for packaged foods and beverages in 15 categories in 2018. This February, NSSRI finalized the policy with the goal of industry voluntarily committing to gradually reformulate their sugary products.
Implementing a national policy, however, will require government support to monitor companies as they work toward the targets and to publicly report on their progress. The researchers hope their model will build consensus on the need for a national-sugar reformulation policy in the US. “We hope that this study will help push the reformulation initiative forward in the next few years,” says Siyi Shangguan, MD, MPH, lead author and attending physician at MGH. “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.”
Ten years after the NSSRI policy goes into effect, the U.S. could expect to save $4.28 billion in total net healthcare costs, and $118.04 billion over the lifetime of the current adult population (ages 35 to 79), according to the model. Adding the societal costs of lost productivity of Americans developing diseases from excessive sugar consumption, the total cost savings of the NSSRI policy rises to $160.88 billion over the adult population’s lifetime. These benefits are likely to be an underestimation since the calculations were conservative. The study also demonstrated that even partial industry compliance with the policy could generate significant health and economic gains.