SEP 15, 2021 1:38 PM PDT

Reducing Sugar in Packaged Foods May Protect Millions From Disease

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

For years, scientists have tried to learn more about whether addedor excess dietary sugars are harmful to a person's health. Sugary beverages have been associated with an increased risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, and all-cause mortality, but a causal link has not been established conclusively. But researchers have now suggested that if 20 percent of sugar in packaged foods and 40 percent of sugar in beverages were removed, as many as 2.48 million cardiovascular disease events (like cardiac arrest, heart attack, or strokes, heart attack), 490,000 cardiovascular disease deaths, and 750,000 diabetes cases in the United States could be prevented over the lifetimes of the American public. The findings have been reported in Circulation.

Image credit: Max Pixel

This research was done by creating a computational model that predicted the economic and health outcomes of voluntary sugar reductions. In 2018, the U.S. National Salt and Sugar Reduction Initiative (NSSRI) convened a team of organizations that proposed voluntary reductions in the sugar content of food and drink. The researchers incorporated established data from a survey of sugar-related diseases from 2011 to 2016, including health and policy costs. A simulated population was applied to the model, which had a start of 2019, and followed through until 100 years of age or death.

“We hope that this study will help push the reformulation initiative forward in the next few years,” said lead study author Siyi Shangguan, MD, MPH, an 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.”

The research suggested that the US could save as much as $4.28 billion on healthcare ten years after the reductions are implemented, and $118.04 billion over the current American adult population's lifetimes. If the costs associated with sugar-related diseases are also considered, the savings could rise to as much as $160.88 billion over American adults' lifetimes. These projections were conservative, and could be underestimated. Even if the sugar reductions are not fully implemented, there were still projected benefits.

The food industry has been successfully convinced to reduce the use of other potentially harmful food ingredients in recent years, such as sodium and trans fat. Some countries like Singapore and Norway have already started to push to reduce excess sugar levels in food, but the US has lagged behind that effort.

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the world, and sugary food and beverage consumption is associated with the development of cardiovascular disease. These effects are also more pronounced in lower-income populations.

“Sugar is one of the most obvious additives in the food supply to reduce to reasonable amounts,” said co-senior study author Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, DrPH, dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. “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.”

Sources: Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), Circulation

About the Author
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Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on over 30 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 70 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
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