Fountain sodas and other menu items with more than a day’s worth of added sugars will bear warning icons
Mayor Eric Adams today signed historic legislation passed by the New York City Council that will require warnings on all menu items at chain restaurants that contain more than a day’s worth of added sugars. The Sweet Truth Act expands on an earlier sugar warnings policy the City Council passed in 2021 that covered only limited items sold in restaurants and had not yet been implemented due to the pandemic.
Meals at fast food and fast casual restaurants can be exceedingly high in added sugars, amounts that far exceed the FDA’s daily recommendation for consumption of 50 grams per day. Even most “small” fountain sodas sold at leading fast food chains contain more than a day’s worth of added sugars. Added sugars have been linked to weight gain in children and adults. Sugary drinks may also contribute to type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
The city’s health department has until June of 2024 to design the warnings, which should begin appearing in restaurants by 2025. New York City has already implemented warning icons on menu items that have more than a day’s worth of sodium.
“New Yorkers deserve to know what they’re eating at chain restaurants,” said CSPI senior policy associate DeAnna Nara. “With the legislation signed today New Yorkers soon will be able to see at a glance that their fountain soda or combo meal has more than a whole day’s worth of added sugars. But the impact of this policy should stretch far beyond the borders of the five boroughs. We hope more cities and states follow New York City’s lead, and that the food industry seizes this as a business opportunity to market menu items with safer sugar levels.”
The bill will also require a factual warning statement about high added sugars intake, which will be displayed at the register, on the menu board, and next to places where high-sugar items are dispensed, such as soda fountains.
One key challenge with enforcing the rule will be identifying menu items that are high in added sugars. The Food and Drug Administration currently requires added sugars information to be published on prepackaged foods that carry a Nutrition Facts panel, but has delayed requiring the same information for restaurant foods. CSPI had previously petitioned the FDA calling on the agency to require restaurants to make added sugars information publicly available.
In the meantime, city officials will have to estimate added sugars for many menu items, such as fountain drinks, by comparing the restaurant item to a bottled or packaged version. But some can be harder to estimate, particularly when sugar is added to a recipe along with fruit or milk, which are naturally sweet. Menu items that lack a prepackaged equivalent will not have to carry warnings until the federal government requires restaurants to post added sugars information.
Aside from thanking Mayor Adams for signing the bill, CSPI credited the leadership of City Councilor Keith Powers, the bill’s lead sponsor, and Mark Levine, now the Manhattan borough president but who introduced the earlier version of the Sweet Truth Act which passed in 2021. At the grassroots level, an Interfaith Public Health Network helped mobilize constituent comments into the city council’s 51 member offices.
“We are grateful to the Council and the Mayor for listening to the communities impacted by type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and other health problems linked to the consumption of sugary drinks and added sugars generally,” said Bob Pezzolisi, Convener of the Interfaith Public Health Network. “It’s our hope that legislative leaders in Albany and elsewhere take bold steps like this to protect the public health and bend the curve downward on diet-related disease.”
The Sweet Truth Act is part of a series of actions on added sugars undertaken by CSPI and New York City policymakers. Earlier this year, CSPI and New York City’s health department jointly petitioned the FDA to set voluntary, gradual added sugars reduction targets. New York City’s National Sodium and Sugar Reduction Initiative has already set targets for 15 categories of foods that provide the most added sugars. If those targets were met, one study estimated that the initiative could prevent 2.48 million cardiovascular disease events, like heart attacks or strokes; 490,000 deaths due to cardiovascular disease; 750,000 diabetes cases over a lifetime; and save $161 billion in costs.
Earlier this month, the FDA held a public meeting on sugar reduction, but so far has not taken action on the petition by CSPI and the NYC health department.
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