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Mandatory sugar labels could generate healthcare savings, improve health in a cost-effective way

The label could postpone nearly three million cases of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

The Food and Drug Administration's mandatory added sugar labeling policy for packaged foods and beverages could be a cost-effective way to generate health gains and cost savings for both the healthcare system and society in general.

That's according to a new modeling study led by researchers from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University and the University of Liverpool.

The sugar labeling policy is expected to take effect sometime in 2020 or 2021.

In 2016, the FDA announced several mandatory changes to the Nutrition Facts label to provide consumers with enhanced nutritional information. Among the changes was adding the grams and percent Daily Value of added sugar content, which would help consumers limit calories from added sugar in accordance with the recommendations of the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.


The study estimates that the FDA's added sugar label could prevent or postpone nearly 1 million cases of cardiometabolic disease, including heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes, over a 20-year period. When combined with possible industry reformulations to reduce added sugar content in packaged foods and beverages, the label could prevent or postpone nearly three million cases of cardiovascular disease and diabetes over the same time period.

Cost-effectiveness of each scenario was evaluated from a healthcare perspective -- accounting for policy costs and medical costs -- and from a societal perspective, further accounting for informal care costs and lost productivity costs. Both scenarios were estimated to be cost-effective within five years and cost-saving within seven years.

Specifically, the analysis estimates the added sugar label could $31 billion in net healthcare costs and $61.9 billion in societal costs. Policy costs were estimated to be $1.7 billion. The label could also prevent or postpone 354,400 cases of cardiovascular disease and 599,300 cases of diabetes.

Taking into consideration possible reformulation by the food industry, the analysis yielded greater corresponding gains, estimating that the new label could save $57.6 billion in net healthcare costs and $113.2 billion in societal costs, while policy costs, including industry reformulation costs, were estimated to be $4.3 billion.


While some companies have begun listing added sugar content, the 2018 deadline for compliance has been extended to 2020 for large manufacturers and 2021 for small manufacturers.

The researchers note that Americans consume more than 15 percent of their total calories from added sugars and overconsumption of added sugars is linked to an increased risk of cardiometabolic diseases.

These diseases pose large health and economic burdens for society and the healthcare system. Food labeling could be an effective strategy to support informed consumer choice and reduce added sugar intake, while further stimulating industry reformulation, as supported by recent experience with trans fat labeling in the U.S.


The sugar label initiative isn't the only one that could have a real impact on the industry. A March study examined the efficacy of healthy food prescriptions, finding they could not only improve patients' health but also save more than $100 billion in healthcare costs. The predicted economic benefits would arise if 20 percent of the cost of supermarket fruits and vegetables were covered through Medicare and Medicaid.

Twitter: @JELagasse

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