CSPI and New York City Health Department urge FDA to set voluntary added sugar reduction targets for foods and drinks

A spoonful of white cane sugar with a raspberry on top

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Initiative aims to bring added sugars intake to less than 10 percent of calories in 10 years

The Center for Science in the Public Interest and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene are calling on the Food and Drug Administration to set voluntary targets for reducing added sugars in foods and beverages.  

In a regulatory petition filed jointly with the agency today, CSPI and NYC DOHMH say the American food supply is dominated by products with excessive amounts of added sugars, and overconsumption of foods or beverages high in added sugars is linked to weight gain, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and tooth decay. 

The FDA already has a similar program setting short-term, voluntary targets for sodium reduction in various categories of processed, packaged, and prepared foods, inspired in large part by multiple petitions and lawsuits from CSPI. A parallel program to reduce added sugars in the food supply is another necessary strategy to improve Americans’ diets and advance population health, according to NYC DOHMH and CSPI. 

When it comes to setting added sugar reduction targets, some of the heavy lifting has already been done by the New York City health department. Its National Salt and Sugar Reduction Initiative—started in 2009 to focus on salt and amended in 2018 to include sugar—has already developed total sugars reduction targets for the 15 categories of foods that contribute the most added sugars to the diet. 

New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan and CSPI president Dr. Peter G. Lurie announced their organizations’ joint petition to FDA at CSPI’s 2023 Sugar Reduction Summit, which is bringing together some 500 activists, academics, and policymakers who support sugar reduction policies. FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf is scheduled to deliver the closing keynote address to the summit on Wednesday. 

“Our communities, especially those that have a history of disinvestment, are awash in foods that are so high in added sugars, and it can feel as if our food systems are designed to increase obesity, and produce diabetes and other diet-related diseases, instead of being designed to nourish, sustain, and advance health and wellbeing,” said Dr. Vasan. “New York City has shown, time and again, that simple policy changes can add up, and chart a pathway toward a healthier population. The FDA can and should lend their authority to a safer, healthier food supply.”  

The petition filed today essentially asks the FDA to do four things. First, the agency should issue guidance for the food and beverage industry that provides short-term (2.5-year), mid-term (5-year), and long-term (10-year) targets for added sugars content in the commercially processed foods and drinks from categories that contribute the most overall added sugars. The long-term goal of the targets should be to bring Americans’ consumption of added sugars to less than 10 percent of calories, and the FDA should monitor industry’s progress toward achieving the targets, according to CSPI and New York City. 

Second, the FDA should create a public online database of all of the top-selling products included in the targeted food categories as well as each product's nutrition information (including added sugars content) and ingredient list. Third, the petition says that after publishing its initial guidance to industry, the FDA should provide public progress reports indicating how much progress companies have achieved toward the short-, medium-, and long-term targets. And finally, the petition calls on FDA to expand its guidance to include prepared foods sold at restaurants and elsewhere, once menu labeling regulations are updated to require restaurants to disclose added sugars in menu items upon request. 

CSPI and New York City say the asks in its petition are aligned with the Biden-Harris administration’s National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health. That document, released in September of 2022, committed to continuing the administration’s sodium reduction efforts, as well as to exploring the potential for similar targets or other strategies for added sugars reduction. 

“When you account for the naturally occurring sugars in fruit, milk, and other foods, there really isn’t very much room left in anyone’s diet for high-fructose corn syrup or other forms of added sugars,” said CSPI president Dr. Peter G. Lurie. “Yet food manufacturers are seemingly shoehorning added sugars into cereals, yogurts, breads, and virtually every other category of processed or restaurant food. This needs to be reversed—and the FDA needs to show the way.” 

“People want to be healthy, and they want their kids and families to be healthy too,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT). “Processed, packaged foods make it all too easy to overconsume added sugars, which can lead to higher risks factors for a whole host of health conditions and chronic diseases with related astronomical health care costs, such as diabetes, heart disease, and tooth decay. We are at a tipping point. Implementing added sugars reduction targets for processed, packaged foods will ultimately lower added sugars in the food supply and the amount of added sugars people consume daily.”   

“Our grocery stores are flooded with ultra-processed foods which are nutrient-poor and high in added sugars and salt.” said Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ). “We know that these foods are making Americans chronically ill at a massive scale -- diet-related illnesses are the number one leading cause of death and disability in America. For too long, many in the food industry have prioritized profits over people’s health, which is why I have called for the FDA to implement reductions in salt and sugar in processed foods. The FDA has already made strides on voluntary sodium reduction targets; now it’s time we do the same for added sugars. I urge the FDA to heed the recommendations of Center for Science in the Public Interest and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to address this urgent public health issue.”