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New Delhi: A proposed policy to reduce sugar by up to 20 per cent from packaged foods and 40 per cent from beverages could prevent 2.48 million cardiovascular disease events in the US — including stroke, heart attack and cardiac arrest, a new study has revealed.

These measures could also prevent 7,50,000 diabetes cases in the US, according to the study published in the journal Circulation in August.

According to the study, if the proposed reduction in sugar is implemented, at least 4,90,000 lives can be saved from the current US adult population (aged 35 to 79), estimated by a model created by the researchers.

The model, created by the study researchers including those from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), Tufts University, and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, simulated the impacts of a sugar-reduction policy proposed by the U.S. National Salt and Sugar Reduction Initiative (NSSRI).

A partnership of health organisations from across the US, the NSSRI released two rounds of preliminary sugar categories and draft targets in 2018 and 2019. In February 2021, the initiative released its targets for sugar reduction across 15 categories of foods and beverages. Separate sets of targets for each of these categories of products are set for 2023 and 2026.

The policy recommendations also encourage consumers to switch to unsweetened versions of products and call for companies to reduce the portion sizes for products that are meant to serve a single person.

The researchers hope their model will build consensus on the need to implement this national sugar reformulation policy in the US.

“We hope that this study will help push the reformulation initiative forward in the next few years,” said Siyi Shangguan, lead author and attending physician at MGH, in a statement.

“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,” she added.

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Total savings in US with less sugar

According to the model, 10 years after the NSSRI policy goes into effect, the US could expect to save $4.28 billion in healthcare costs and $118.04 billion over the lifetime of the current adult population (aged 35 to 79).

Furthermore, if the societal costs of Americans’ lost productivity due to excessive sugar consumption is added to it, the total savings rise to $160.88 billion over the adult population’s lifetime.

The researchers also said that the benefits in the real world are likely to be much greater than what their model predicts.

“Sugar is one of the most obvious additives in the food supply to reduce to reasonable amounts,” said Dariush Mozaffarian, co-senior author from Tufts University.

“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 healthcare spending in less than a decade,” Mozaffarian said.

Consuming sugar-laden foods and beverages is linked to obesity and diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, which is the leading cause of death in the US.

(Edited by Rachel John)

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