The FDA’s Latest Game-Changer: Labeling Added Sugar

Last Update: March 15, 2024

Today, an inquisitive shopper wouldn’t be able to find the answer to this question on the back of any food label—but it may be one of the most important nutrition questions we ask.

That question? “How much added sugar is in this food?”

Added sugars, which account for roughly 10 percent of our diet, on average, may increase our risk of dying from heart disease and contribute to weight gain and cavities. Perhaps most frightening, some doctors say the appearance of diabetes in younger and younger children and adolescents may be connected to the increase in sugar added to our food supply over the last several decades.

“The biggest contributor [to childhood diabetes] identified has been increased weight, but the increasing rate of type 2 diabetes at younger and younger ages probably reflects obesity plus lots of different changes, including changes in our diets, such as more sugars and processed foods, and less physical activity,” said Thomas Robinson, MD, a Stanford pediatric obesity researcher who directs the Center for Healthy Weight at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. “The CDC now projects that 1 in 3 U.S. children will have diabetes in their lifetimes, and it will be 1 in 2 among African American and Latina girls. That is a pretty scary thought.”

Scary indeed. Scarier still, our food labels let us know how much protein, salt, and cholesterol the product contributes to our daily recommended intake—but not added sugar. That could change if new Food and Drug Administration proposals, submitted Friday, go through as written. The FDA proposed including the daily value (DV%) for added sugars on the nutrition label of packaged foods, and setting the recommended intake at 10 percent of an adult’s daily caloric intake.

Seems like a no-brainer. Right?

Well, not everyone is thrilled about including added sugar on the labels, which the FDA has been working to overhaul last year. Writing for Bloomberg View, syndicated columnist Justin Fox said the labels don’t go far enough in only including added sugar—not total sugar content.

“I get that one should only consume a certain amount of sugar in a day, but it makes no sense that the limit apply only to added sweeteners,” he writes. “Drinking 10 big glasses of orange juice a day is going to overload you with sugar, too.”

But noted nutrition and food policy expert Marion Nestle celebrated the proposal, noting that an adult who consumes 2,000 calories in a day would have met their recommended intake for added sugars after just one 12-ounce soda. She says the FDA’s suggestion is more generous than that of the United Kingdom, where the UK’s Scientific Advisory Committee recommends that for anyone older than two, just 5 percent of daily calories should come from added sugar.

“Congratulations to the FDA for this one,” she writes. “Let’s hope it sticks.”

Photo credit: Marcel via Stocksy

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Steve Holt

Steve Holt's stories about food, nutrition and food politics are found at Civil Eats,, Boston Magazine, and elsewhere. He's been featured in the Best Food Writing anthology. Follow his tweets and Instagrams @thebostonwriter.

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