BOSTON – A study published Aug. 27 in Circulation showed cutting 20% of sugar from packaged foods and 40% from beverages could prevent 2.48 million cardiovascular disease events such as strokes, heart attacks and cardiac arrests, 490,000 cardiovascular deaths and 750 diabetes cases in the United States over the lifetime of the current adult population.

“We hope that this study will help push the reformulation initiative forward in the next few years,” said Siyi Shangguan, MD, lead author and attending physician at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. “Reducing the sugar content of commercially prepared foods and beverages will have a larger impact on the health of Americans than other initiatives to cut sugar, such as imposing a sugar tax, labeling added sugar content, or banning sugary drinks in schools.”

The National Institutes of Health provided funding for the study.

A team of researchers from the Massachusetts General Hospital, the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Medford, Mass., the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene created a model to simulate and quantify the health, economic and equity impacts of a sugar-reduction policy proposed by the US National Salt and Sugar Initiative, which released targets for packaged foods and beverages in 15 categories in 2018.

“The NSSRI policy is by far the most carefully designed and comprehensive, yet achievable, sugar-reformulation initiative in the world,” Dr. Shangguan said.

The model incorporated national demographic and dietary data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) across three cycles (2011-16), added sugar-related diseases from meta-analyses, and policy costs and health-related costs.  A simulated nationally representative US population was created and followed until age 100 or death, with 2019 as the intervention’s start.

The United States, according to the study’s model, could save $4.28 billion in total net health care costs 10 years after the sugar-reduction policy went into place and $118.04 million over the lifetime of the current population, or those of the ages 35 to 79. The sugar-reduction policy could become cost-effective at six years. The greatest estimated health gains could come from Black and Hispanic adults as well as Americans with lower income and less education.

“Our findings suggest it’s time to implement a national program with voluntary sugar reduction targets, which can generate major improvements in health, health disparities, and health care spending in less than a decade,” said Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, co-senior author and dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University.