Health Department Announces the National Salt and Sugar Reduction Initiative

Initiative calls on industry to voluntarily reduce sugar in packaged foods by 20 percent by 2025, building on prior success in lowering salt in the food supply

October 19, 2018 — The Health Department announced today a national effort to reduce sugar in packaged foods by 20 percent by 2025. The National Salt and Sugar Reduction Initiative (NSSRI) is a partnership of nearly 100 local, city and state health departments, associations, and health organizations across the country. The NSSRI is advocating for lowering the amount of sugar in 13 different food and beverage categories: sweetened milk and milk substitutes; breakfast pastries; cakes; cookies; dry mixes; dairy-based and frozen desserts; sweet candies; chocolate candies; breakfast cereals; condiments; dessert syrups and toppings; yogurt; and sugary drinks. Targets were set for sugar reduction in each category and recommendations were released to the food and beverage industry with a request for comment. Currently, 68 percent of packaged foods and beverages purchased in the U.S. contain added sugar, making it difficult for individuals to reduce their sugar consumption. Intake of added sugars is associated with increased risk of excess weight, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, stroke, heart disease, and cavities. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting consumption of added sugars to 10 percent or less of daily caloric intake, the equivalent of about 12 teaspoons (approximately 200 calories) of added sugars for a 2,000 calorie diet, but the average American consumes about 17 teaspoons (approximately 270 calories) of added sugars each day.

“We encourage New Yorkers to make healthy choices to prevent diet-related disease, but making the healthy choice is often difficult because so many foods are high in sugar,” said Acting Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot. “By reformulating products to reduce the sugar content, manufacturers are improving the quality of foods before they reach supermarket shelves, making it easier for us to make healthy choices.”

“Across the country, cities, states and other health organizations have come together to set voluntary industry targets for sugar reduction that are feasible, measurable and attainable to improve our food supply,” said Deputy Commissioner Dr. Sonia Angell. “Increasing the availability of products that aren’t high in added sugar expands choice, empowering all of us to make the best decisions for our own health.”

“Cities nationally and internationally look to New York for innovations in food policy, and the convening of this important coalition is no exception,” said Barbara Turk, Director of Food Policy for New York City. “Recognition is due to the Health Department for their bold and longstanding leadership in devising national strategies that result in healthier choices for consumers, as well as the health departments and organizations across the country for their coordinated efforts. I look forward to seeing companies side with the health of consumers - these small reductions in sugar will make a big impact for health across the country.”

“Salt and sugar are silent killers,” said Assistant Speaker Felix W. Ortiz. “These food additives must be limited by the food industry and by consumers alike. I’ve been fighting against childhood and adult obesity for many years and welcome the city's effort to create voluntary targets to reduce the amount of sugar and salt in food and beverage products. You can still enjoy food and drink without the unnecessary addition of health threatening ingredients.”

“Excessive sugar consumption is a major factor in the obesity, diabetes and heart disease epidemics. This is a public health crisis, like smoking. Working with manufacturers of prepared foods and beverages to lower sugar levels in their products is a sensible proactive step to improve public health,” said Assembly Member Richard N. Gottfried, Chair of the Assembly Health Committee.

“Adding national targets for sugar reduction in the food and beverage supply is the right next step for this successful collaborative,” said Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association. “Given that an estimated 40,000 people in the U.S. die from heart problems each year caused by consuming too many sugary drinks alone, we support making added sugars a priority for menu renovations, product innovation and reformulation.”

“When the New York City health department speaks, the entire food industry listens,” said Dr. Peter G. Lurie, president of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which has long encouraged reduction of added sugars and sodium in the food supply. “Food manufacturers should plot a trajectory that will bring sugar levels toward the reasonable targets the city is proposing. With nearly half of the added sugars Americans consume coming from the sugary drinks category alone, these changes are urgently needed to address alarming rates of obesity and diet-related diseases.”

“One big reason why it’s so hard for us to cut down on sugar is that food companies add so much to the processed foods we buy,” said Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, foods studies, and public health, emerita, NYU. “Reducing sugar in packaged foods should help a lot without much effect on how the products taste. Food companies should be doing this already. Cheers for this new health initiative. It will hold companies accountable for reducing the sugar in their products.”

“The Philadelphia Department of Health strongly supports this initiative to lower the sugar in packaged foods,” said Dr. Thomas Farley, Philadelphia Health Commissioner. “Sugar-laden foods are important contributors to obesity and to diabetes, which now threatens to afflict one third of children during their lifetimes.”

“The large amounts of added sugar in our food supply are calories we simply don’t need, and they contribute to the ongoing epidemics of obesity and heart disease,” said Dr. Walter Willett, Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition Harvard Chan School of Public Health. “This national initiative to reduce these hidden calories is a welcome step in our efforts to improve the wellbeing of everyone.”

“We know from our research in Chile and research in the UK that the food industry has tremendous capacity to cut the sugar content in the foods and beverages they make if regulations or key initiatives like the NSSRI occur,” said Barry Popkin, W. R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor, University of North Carolina. “The NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is to be lauded for initiating this effort. We hope and expect that as with the earlier NYC sodium reduction initiative, industry will work to reduce the sugar content of our foods to at least meet this set of targets.”

“This is an important and well targeted first step to encourage sugar reduction alongside sodium reduction in the US,” said Shu Wen Ng, Associate Professor, University of North Carolina. “Lead food companies must step up to make it easier for consumers to make healthier choices, and in the process encourage other companies to follow suit.”

“Excess sugar consumption from foods and beverages can contribute to the development of obesity and related chronic conditions, including type 2 diabetes. The National Salt and Sugar Reduction Initiative is an emerging response to this chronic disease risk, calling for action to decrease sugar in the food supply,” said Dr. Tony Kuo, M.D., M.S.H.S., Director, Division of Chronic Disease and Injury Prevention at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. “Given the size of Los Angeles County, the Initiative could have beneficial impact on reducing the risks of obesity and chronic disease among the 10 million adults and children who live in this region of the United States.”

The NSSRI released two targets for each category based on sugar density: a sales-weighted mean and a maximum upper limit. The sales-weighted mean would reduce the average sugar content across all products in each category; for most categories, it is based on a 20 percent reduction from the category’s baseline. The maximum upper limit would reduce the amount of sugar in the products with the highest sugar content within each category. Updated NSSRI targets will be released in 2019, and participating companies will commit to achieving the targets by 2025.

The NSSRI started first with a focus on sodium in 2009. Then called the National Salt Reduction Initiative (NSRI), nearly 30 food companies committed to work towards NSRI-established sodium targets, including some of the nation’s largest manufacturers. Between 2009 and 2015, there was a 6.8 percent reduction in sodium levels among top selling processed foods, demonstrating that meaningful reformulation of food products is achievable within a short time period.

The Health Department is a leader in developing innovative programs and policies to improve the diets of New Yorkers. Prior efforts include:

  • Requiring chain restaurants to post warning labels next to menu items that contain high levels of sodium.
  • Promoting farmers markets and the city’s fruit and vegetable financial incentive program, Health Bucks.
  • Launching educational campaigns on sugary drink consumption and healthy eating.
  • Mandating calorie labeling in chain restaurants and food retailers providing prepared foods.
  • Restricting trans fat use in restaurants.

For additional information, search for “NSSRI” or “sugar reduction” on nyc.gov/health, email sugar@health.nyc.gov or call 311.

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