Pear in mind: A blog in the public interest

New York City has become the first city in the nation to pass legislation requiring added sugars warnings in chain restaurants, a victory that marks a significant milestone on the path to rebuilding a healthier New York. No other U.S. jurisdiction to date has successfully implemented warnings for foods and drinks that are high in added sugars.  

INT-1326B, also known as The Sweet Truth Act, requires chain restaurants (those with 15 or more locations nationally) in New York City to post added sugars warning icons on prepackaged food or drink items that contain more than an entire day’s worth of added sugars (50 grams) and to post a factual warning statement about high added sugars intake at the point of purchase.

While we celebrate this historic victory, in its current form the bill tells only half of the truth about the sugar-laden offerings at chain restaurants, because it fails to cover fountain drinks and other non-prepackaged items that are prepared on site. That means if the bill goes into effect in its current form, a New Yorker walking into a restaurant chain like Subway would see warnings on the 20-ounced bottled soda, but not on the fountain sodas, which could contain as much or more added sugars. And we know from a recent report released by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) that most “small” fountain drinks sold at the top fast-food chains  contain more than a day’s worth of added sugars, leaving some of the biggest offenders without a warning.

Now is not the time to let Big Soda get away with concealing the truth about what’s in our meals, especially since we know that sugary drinks contribute to type 2 diabetes and heart disease—in part because they lead to weight gain. We also know that diabetes, heart disease, and stroke are among the chronic conditions that make adults more likely to get severely ill from COVID-19 and that New York City experienced a 356% increase in diabetes-related deaths during the first wave of COVID-19, the largest increase in any urban area in the nation.

These numbers are just added on to an existing crisis: one New York City resident was already dying every 90 minutes from diabetes-related causes prior to the pandemic. There is a heightened sense of urgency to strengthen this bill and give consumers a fighting chance.  

New Yorkers won’t settle for half the truth, and as advocates, neither will we. That is why warnings under the Sweet Truth Act must be extended to cover all high-added sugars items served in chain restaurants, including fountain drinks. Expanding this policy before it goes into effect remains an urgent priority, with no time to waste implementing half measures. Let’s put the people of New York City first and finally tell the whole #SweetTruth about added sugars.

DeAnna is the policy lead for CSPI’s warning labels work, specifically focusing on initiatives to improve food environments by reducing sodium and added sugars consumption.