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Jennifer Grebow is editor-in-chief of Nutritional Outlook.
This latest proposal supplements the agency’s March 2014 proposal to overhaul the Nutrition Facts Label.
FDA has yet another suggestion for giving consumers more information about the added sugar in their food and drink: list the percent daily value of added sugar on the nutrition facts label.
FDA officially pitched the new idea in the Federal Register on July 24. The agency’s proposal is a supplement to its original March 3, 2014, bid to drastically reform the nutrition facts label, including changing the way the label lists serving sizes and calorie content. In March 2014, FDA had made one proposal to change the way sugar is listed. Current labels list a product’s sugar content as one value that reflects the combined amount of naturally occurring and added sugar. (As opposed to sugars naturally occurring in foods like fruits and vegetables, added sugars are sugars and syrups added to packaged foods and beverages during food manufacture.) Instead, FDA said, it would add a separate line to specifically reflect the quantity of added sugar in an effort to get consumers to choose products lower in added sugar. If this proposal takes effect, nutrition facts labels would list two sugar values: one for total sugar (natural and added) and a sub-listing for added sugar only.
Not everyone is happy about the agency’s latest suggestion to also include a percent daily value for added sugar. (To recap, the percent daily value indicates the percentage of a nutrient that a packaged good contributes to the recommended total intake for a day’s diet.)
In commenting on the latest percent daily value proposal, the International Food Information Council Foundation (IFIC) reiterated its earlier position that the way in which FDA proposes to list added sugars confuses consumers. IFIC is basing its opinion on consumer research the foundation supported, which found that consumers, when using FDA’s proposed reformatted label, had difficulty identifying the amount of total sugar in a product when information about added sugar was also included-in part because many consumers don’t understand what added sugar even is.
“The short (and sweet) answer…providing added-sugars information significantly decreases the ability for consumers to accurately identify the total amount of sugars in a product,” stated Kris Sollid, RD, IFIC’s director of nutrients communications, who also coauthored the consumer study that is now published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
But with the July 24th percent daily value proposal, FDA released its own recent assessment of how consumers understand sugar on the nutrition facts label. FDA’s conclusions are based on a 2014 study FDA undertook to evaluate how its proposed changes for added sugar would impact consumer understanding of the nutrition facts label.
According to FDA, a majority of subjects were able to correctly report the amount of added sugars when declarations for both total and added sugars were featured. (The label tested did not included an added-sugar percent daily value, however.) FDA further reported that “when declared, higher amounts of added sugars tended to produce more negative judgments about the product's healthfulness.”
However, the agency concurs that consumers still don’t seem to grasp the difference between added and total sugar. In the study report, the agency said, “Although the majority of the respondents correctly identified the total amount of sugars in a serving of food with each label presented that included an added-sugars declaration, the added-sugars experiment results show that a number of participants were confused about the distinction between sugars and added sugars, regardless of whether added-sugars declarations appeared on the Nutrition Facts label. When participants were viewing Nutrition Facts labels without added-sugars declarations, they could not accurately determine the amount of added sugars in the products, with the majority reporting that the total sugars amount was the amount of added sugars.”
Still, given its latest daily-value proposal, it seems FDA will continue to push listing added sugar on the nutrition facts label.
FDA says it did not include the recommendation for a percent daily value for added sugars when it released its broader March 2014 proposal because the agency did not have a “scientifically supported quantitative intake recommendation for added sugars, based on a biomarker of risk of disease or other public health endpoint, on which a DRV [daily reference value] for added sugars could be derived.”
Since then, the agency says, the latest data from the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC)-data that will inform the impending final 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans-has provided more insight on the link between added sugars and an increase in heart disease and other diseases that gives FDA reason to “tentatively conclude that the 2015 DGAC report and the scientific information on which it relies provide a basis for FDA to establish a DRV reference point for the added sugars declaration at 10% of calories that is based on a public health endpoint and is necessary to assist consumers to maintain healthy dietary practices.”
FDA’s director of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, Susan Mayne, PhD, issued this statement in July: “FDA considered the evidence and determined that it supports setting a Daily Value for added sugars. The Daily Value, which is used to calculate the percent Daily Value that consumers see on the Nutrition Facts label, would be 50 g of added sugars for adults and children four years of age and older and 25 g for children one through three years.”
In its 2015 report, the DGAC recommends that Americans limit their intake of added sugar to less than 10% of their total daily calorie intake and also stresses that added-sugar intake above the 10% mark also makes it difficult for individuals to meet their daily nutrient requirements while staying within parameters for healthy calorie intake. The 2015 DGAC committee estimates that 90% of the U.S. population currently exceeds the recommended daily limits for solid fats and added sugars.
Some good news did come out of the committee’s report, however. The committee said that although intake of added sugar is still above the recommended limit, that intake did decrease between 2001–2004 and 2007–2010.
“Some improvements have been made in added sugars intake, with noticeable declines in mean intakes for all age groups and among both males and females when comparing 2007–2010 data with 2001–2004 data,” the committee said, adding that “the improvements provide some optimism for improved diets.”
Regulators still have good reason to be concerned about Americans’ high intake of added sugars. Some estimates say that America’s intake of added sugar has gone up by a whopping 30% over the past three decades and that 16% of the average American’s daily calories come from added sugar. Studies have shown that high amounts of added sugars can significantly increase the risk of heart disease, including this 2014 JAMA study on heart disease, as well as diabetes and obesity.
FDA says its goal is to reduce the nation’s overall intake of added sugar and hopes the nutrition facts label is a way to do this. In her statement, FDA’s Mayne pointed out that “a consumer who drinks a 20-oz sugared beverage may be surprised to know it contains about 66 g of added sugar, which would be listed on the label as 132% of the Daily Value.”
FDA estimates that 5%–6% of products on the shelf “that significantly contribute added sugars to diets” will be reformulated if its labeling proposal takes hold. Currently, the nutrition facts label lists percent daily values for total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrate, dietary fiber, calcium, and iron.
On a related note, in reviewing comments it received from March 2014, the agency said it’s strongly considering suggestions to list total sugar content as “total sugars” as opposed to just “sugars” with the mindset that the wording helps consumers better understand that added sugars are a part of the total sugar quantity. The agency said, however, that it will not establish a DRV for total sugars “because there is no quantitative intake level or other reference amount for which there is sufficient scientific evidence upon which we can base a DRV for total sugars” at this time.
FDA now accepting comments on its new suggestion to include a percent daily value for added sugar.
Nutritional Outlook magazine