Experts Call for Food Labels to Disclose Added Sugars

WASHINGTON - The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and dozens of leading health experts and organizations today petitioned the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to require that food labels declare how much sugar is added to soft drinks, ice cream, and other foods.

     The petition also asks the FDA to set a maximum recommended daily intake (Daily Value) for added sugars and require labels to disclose the percentage of the Daily Value a food provides.

     Michael Jacobson, executive director of CSPI, said today at a Washington press conference, "Sugar consumption has been going through the roof. It has increased by 28 percent since 1983, fueling soaring obesity rates and other health problems. It's vital that the FDA require labels that would enable consumers to monitor—and reduce—their sugar intake."

     Marion Nestle, chair of the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies at New York University, said, "Because sugary foods often replace more healthful foods, diets high in sugar are almost certainly contributing to osteoporosis, cancer, and heart disease. It's high time that the food label informed consumers of a food's contribution to a recommended limit for added sugars." Nestle was managing editor of the 1988 Surgeon General's Report on Diet and Health.

     United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) surveys show that sugar consumption has increased almost every year since 1982. Most of that sugar came from cane and beet sugar and corn syrup and corn sugar. Much of the increase was due to the consumption of soft drinks.

     "Health officials must take prudent action to stem the dilution of the American diet with sugar's empty calories. Declaring on food labels the amount of added sugars would help consumers cut the sugar and improve their diets," said Mohammad Akhter, the executive director of the American Public Health Association.

     USDA advises people who eat a 2,000-calorie healthful diet to try to limit themselves to about 10 teaspoons of added sugars per day. In fact, the average American does not eat a healthful diet, but consumes 20 teaspoons of added sugars per day.

     A teenage male who eats a healthful diet could eat about 18 teaspoons of added sugars, according to USDA. Most teenage males do not eat a healthful diet, because they consume an average of 34 teaspoons of sugar per day.

     CSPI is asking the FDA to adopt USDA's figure of 10 teaspoons (40 grams) as the Daily Value for added sugars. Daily Values are used on Nutrition Facts labels to indicate the recommended maximum intakes of fat, sodium, and other nutrients.

     Many individual foods provide large fractions of the USDA's recommended sugar limits. For instance, a typical cup of fruit yogurt provides 70 percent of a day's worth of added sugar; a cup of regular ice cream provides 60 percent, a 12-ounce Pepsi provides 103 percent, a Hostess Lemon Fruit Pie provides 115 percent, a serving of Kellogg's Marshmallow Blasted Froot Loops provides 40 percent, and a quarter-cup of pancake syrup provides 103 percent.

     While restaurant foods are not required to provide nutrition labeling, CSPI found that a Cinnabon provides 123 percent of USDA's recommended target, a large McDonald's Shake 120 percent, a large Mr. Misty Slush at Dairy Queen 280 percent, and Burger King's Cini-minis with icing 95 percent. One of the biggest problems with high-sugar foods is that they replace more healthful foods. According to USDA data, people who eat diets high in sugar get less calcium, fiber, folate, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, magnesium, iron, and other nutrients. They also consume fewer fruits and vegetables.

     "If you're drinking soda pop instead of lowfat milk or orange juice, or eating a candy bar instead of a piece of fruit, you're missing a chance to cut your risk of osteoporosis, cancer, or heart disease," said Bonnie Liebman, CSPI nutrition director.

     In a letter to the FDA, the goals of CSPI's 71-page petition were supported by 39 organizations, ranging from the American Public Health Association and former Surgeon General Koop's Shape Up America! to the YMCA and the Girl Scouts of America. The campaign is also supported by 33 experts on obesity, heart disease, and dental caries, including George L. Blackburn, Associate Professor in Nutrition Medicine at Harvard Medical School; Kelly D. Brownell, Professor of Psychology, Epidemiology, and Public Health at Yale University; and Isobel R. Contento, Professor and Coordinator of the Program in Nutrition and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University.