Only a modest reduction in added sugar consumption is needed to achieve Healthy People 2030 target


Reducing caloric intake from added sugars is a Leading Health Indicator in Healthy People 2030, a national public health initiative led by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that sets data-driven national objectives to improve health and well-being over the next decade. Although many Americans consume too much sugar, investigators found that only a modest reduction in added sugars intake is needed to reach a population mean of 11.5% of calories from added sugars by 2030. Prioritizing reducing added sugar intake among people not meeting recommendations could help those most at risk for chronic disease related to added sugar consumption. The researchers report their findings in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

“Diets high in added sugars are associated with adverse health outcomes such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease,” said Ellen W. Stowe, Ph.D., MPH, lead investigator and fellow, Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, Oak Ridge, TN, US. “We wanted to study what kind of reduction in added sugars intake was needed to achieve this Healthy People 2030 target.”

Although the consumption of added sugars has declined in the United States, many Americans still consume too much. The average added sugar consumption of persons two years and older in 2013–2016 was 13.5% of total calories. Less than half the population—only about 35% of children aged two to 19 years and 47% of adults 20 years and older—met the 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) recommendation of less than 10%.

Four public health approaches analyzing specific segments of the population were used to estimate the required reduction in added sugars intake needed to achieve the Healthy People 2030 target. Added sugar intake was examined before and after reduction by sociodemographic characteristics using survey data from the 2015–2016 and 2017–2018 cycles of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), a nationally representative sample of the noninstitutionalized civilian US population.

Depending on the approach used, investigators found that calories from added sugars must decrease by an average of 14 to 57 calories per day per person in order to meet the Healthy People 2030 target.

  • Approach 1: General United States population—decrease by an average of 13.7 calories/day
  • Approach 2: People exceeding the 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) recommendation for added sugars (>10% calories from added sugars)—decrease by an average of 22 calories/day
  • Approach 3: People exceeding the 2020–2025 DGA recommendation for added sugars by at least 1.5 times (≥15% calories from added sugars, i.e., high consumers of added sugars)—decrease by an average of 56.6 calories/day
  • Approach 4: People exceeding the DGA recommendation for added sugars with two different reductions based on added sugars intake—decrease by an average of 13.9 and 32.3 calories/day for people consuming 10 to <15% and ≥15% calories from added sugars, respectively

Significant differences by age, race/ethnicity, and income observed pre-reduction persisted after different added sugars reductions were applied based on the four approaches.

“The results from our study were encouraging,” said Dr. Stowe. “Regardless of which of the four approaches was used in this analysis, meeting the Healthy People 2030 added sugars target is achievable with modest reductions in added sugar intake. At most, this represents just less than half of one 12-ounce soft drink. This is important because a major change in diet would not be needed to achieve the target.”

More information:
Ellen W. Stowe et al, Meeting the Healthy People 2030 Added Sugars Target, American Journal of Preventive Medicine (2023). DOI: 10.1016/j.amepre.2023.02.004

Journal information:
American Journal of Preventive Medicine

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