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Around the holidays it can feel like sugary treats tempt us at every turn. But this time of year, and all year round, it’s important to be mindful of the sugar we consume. Added sugars have become widespread in our food supply, and excess sugar consumption is harming our health nationwide. Even products perceived as healthy may contain more sugar than we realize. Sugar is sometimes added to foods like yogurts, cereals, and muffins at levels similar to what you might find in cupcakes, cookies, or candy bars. This makes it challenging for most Americans to know what’s really heathy.

In the U.S., adults consume 35% more calories from added sugar than the daily recommended limit, often through processed foods and sweetened drinks. Even more startling, 68% of packaged foods and beverages purchased in the U.S. contain additional caloric sweeteners. This added sugar consumption is associated with increased risk of excess weight, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, stroke, heart disease, and cavities.

Making the healthier choice easier

To make the healthier choice the easier choice and address the widespread prevalence of added sugars, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene recently announced the expansion of the National Salt Reduction Initiative (NSRI) to the National Salt and Sugar Reduction Initiative (NSSRI). The NSSRI is a national partnership—convened by the Health Department of nearly 100 local city and state health departments, associations, and health organizations—that calls upon the food and beverage industry to voluntarily lower sugar in packaged foods by 20% and in beverages by 40% by 2025.

The role of FPHNYC

FPHNYC understands the powerful impact this kind of campaign can have on our food supply and our health. In 2009, we played a significant role in raising support for the launch of the NSRI, which used a voluntary target-setting framework to encourage the food industry to reduce the amount of salt in their products by setting reduction targets for specific food categories. 70% of sodium is added to food outside the home, and diets high in sodium can increase blood pressure and the risk for heart disease and stroke. Nearly 30 companies committed to meeting the sodium reduction targets, and a reduction of nearly 7% was observed from 2009-2014.

Private donations to the Fund transformed the initiative from strategy to reality, allowing for the purchase of sales and nutrition data that made it possible for the Health Department to develop two innovative and sophisticated databases to analyze sodium in packaged and restaurant foods. Private foundation and federal grant funding supported a critical evaluation of sodium intake across New York City that helped establish a baseline for the project, while seed funding secured by FPHNYC from individual donors provided the Health Department with the resources to refine the database and perform critical analyses that led to the initiative’s success.

Long term impacts

“NSRI established a bold national precedent of local and regional public health collaboration to support industry reformulation our country’s food supply. Our data driven approach required investment in the creation of new databases and the addition of technical staff, only made possible by the generosity of foundations.” says Dr. Sonia Angell, Deputy Commissioner of Prevention and Primary Care. “Our demonstrated NSRI success is the foundation for our burgeoning initiative to address excess sugar in foods. The NSRI is a great example of how donor investments in local initiatives can have national import and provide a basis for future innovation.”

The success of the NSRI to decrease the presence of sodium in packaged foods demonstrated that this model is feasible and effective. In 2016, the FDA proposed voluntary sodium reduction goals, including both short and long term targets, which were partially informed by the NSRI targets. As we look to the future, we’re excited to see where this vision for salt and sugar reduction will lead, and how it will empower us all to make better decisions for our health.

For more information, please visit www.nyc.gov/health/nssri or email sugar@health.nyc.gov.