Scientists, public health advocates urge 'added sugar' line on food labels

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Public health advocates want a line on nutrition labels for added sugar.

In a letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, some 280 scientists, physicians and public health advocates urged the addition of a line for added sugar on the nutrition facts labels on food.

The FDA is working on its first label update since 1994 and the public health coalition wants to see the label better reflect the added sugar content of food. Overconsumption of sugar, they maintain, contributes to diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other ailments. Americans consume an average of 82 grams of sugar a day, far more than recommended by either the World Health Organization or American Heart Association.

“This cannot be solved without public education,” the public health advocates write in the statement to the FDA. “Many food and beverage manufacturers add excessive amounts of sugar to their products, including those that they market as healthy options. In our current food environment, many people are unknowingly and unavoidably consuming excess sugar. Given our soaring rates of chronic diseases and the link between sugar and these diseases, citizens have a right to know how much sugar has been added to their foods.”

The experts also urged the FDA to include a maximum daily value on the updated label so consumers can gauge how each product fits into their diet. The recommendation is for an upper limit of 10 percent of one’s daily calories from added sugar, the equivalent of 50 grams.

The signers also note that the rules are flexible enough to account for concerns the food industry has raised around measuring the amount of sugar companies add to products. They acknowledge that voluntary labeling efforts, such as the Grocery Manufacturers Association Facts Up Front initiative, can “play a limited role in consumer education,” but caution that they are “insufficient” and “can confuse consumers.”

Also, the voluntary label does not include added sugars.

The letter, organized by the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, includes scores of signers from Healthy Food Action, a national network of health professionals founded by Dr. David Wallinga.

Co-authors of the letter include Dr. Robert Lustig, professor of pediatrics at UCSF, and author of "Fat Chance," who was a scientific advisor to the documentary "Fed Up," and Dr. Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University, and author of several books including, "Eat, Drink, Vote" and "Food Politics."