Dietary Guidelines Committee: Use Tax and Economic Policies to Reduce Americans’ Intake of Added Sugar

A new report issued by the U.S. government’s top nutrition advisory panel determined that Americans are overconsuming sugar-sweetened drinks and that the lawmakers should consider the use of tax and economic policies to reduce citizens’ intake of such beverages.

As detailed within its 572-page report, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC), a government-backed advisory panel that was first established in 1980, pointed to overconsumption of food and beverages with added sugar as one of the major factors thwarting a “healthy dietary pattern” for Americans.


Noting that “obesity and many other health conditions with a nutritional origin are highly prevalent,” in the U.S., the DGAC found that “strong and consistent evidence shows that intake of added sugars from food and/or sugar-sweetened beverages are associated with excess body weight in children and adults.”

The DGAC, which convenes every five years, was tasked developing “food-based recommendations of public health importance for Americans ages 2 years and older published since the last DGAC” report in 2010. The panel submitted its report and recommendations to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. The DGAC’s proposals are non-binding but nonetheless likely to shape the official 2015 U.S. dietary guidelines, which are set to be released later this year.

Along with a reduction in overall consumption of red meat, saturated fats and salt, the report called upon Americans to limit added sugar to 10 percent of their daily calorie intake; consumers currently get approximately 13 percent of their calories from added sugar.

The panel indicated that positive health outcomes are often associated that the adoption of eating habits that follow “Mediterranean-style” diets, among others, which focus on higher intake of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lower consumption of red and processed meat, and low intake of sugar-sweetened foods and drinks, and refined grains.

While the DGAC advocates “the use of economic and taxing policies to encourage the production and consumption of healthy foods and to reduce unhealthy foods,” and suggested that tax revenues from sugar-sweetened beverages be used for “nutrition education initiatives and obesity prevention programs,” it also called on national and local leaders to create programs that incentivize healthier eating and increased physical activity.

“What we’re calling for in the report in terms of innovation and bold new action in health care, in public health, at the community level, is what it’s going to take to try and make a dent on the epidemic of obesity,” DGAC chairwoman Barbara Millen said in an interview with The Boston Globe.

For the committee, that also means the development of government policies that make healthier food and beverages more accessible and affordable and “limit access to high-calorie, nutrient-poor foods and sugar-sweetened beverages in public buildings and facilities,” particularly schools and other education settings, where the DGAC called for an elimination of sugar-sweetened beverages.

“Improved beverage selections that limit or remove sugar-sweetened beverages and place limits on sweets and desserts would help lower intakes of the food component, added sugars,” the DGAC wrote.

The DGAC also champions a proposal by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that creates a distinct line for added sugars on food nutrition labels.

The panel noted that “a potential unintended consequence” of its recommendations might lead consumers and manufacturers to replace added sugars with low-calorie sweeteners. And while the DGAC wrote that “moderate and generally consistent evidence… supports that replacing sugar-containing sweeteners with low-calorie sweeteners reduces calorie intake, body weight, and adiposity,” it warned that “there is insufficient evidence (due to a paucity of data) to recommend the use of low-calorie sweeteners as a strategy for long-term weight loss and weight maintenance” and that “those sweeteners should not be recommended for use as a primary replacement/substitute for added sugars in foods and beverages.”

So what should Americans be drinking? Water, of course. The DGAC urged that “free, readily accessible, safe water should be available in public settings,” and that “strategies are needed to encourage the US population, especially children and adolescents, to drink water when they are thirsty.”

In a press release responding to the DCAC’s report, the American Beverage Association (ABA), a trade group representing the non-alcoholic beverage industry, chided the panel for going “beyond its charge and authority to develop dietary recommendations based on scientific evidence by advocating for public policies such as taxes and restrictions on foods and beverages.”

“When it comes to sugar and sugar-sweetened beverages, the Committee did not consider the body of science,” the ABA wrote. “Numerous studies have shown that restricting one food or food group is not the best approach for achieving calorie balance or maintaining a healthy weight.”

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The ABA also blasted the DGAC’s “lack of support for foods and beverages made with low- and no-calorie sweeteners” as contradictory, stating that “the body of science clearly shows that these ingredients can be an effective tool in weight loss, weight management and management of health conditions such as diabetes and hypertension.”

Notably, the DGAC examined for the first time in its history U.S. consumption of coffee and caffeinated beverages with regard to long-term health. The committee found that “moderate coffee consumption [defined as 3 to 5 cups per day] can be incorporated into a healthy dietary pattern,” and is also associated with reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease in healthy adults. The panel also identified a “protective association between coffee/caffeine intake and risk of Parkinson’s disease.”

The DGAC briefly touched on energy drink consumption. Noting that while data is limited, “high caffeine intake (greater than 400 mg/day for adults and undetermined for children and adolescents), that may occur with rapid consumption of large-sized energy drinks,” suggests “adverse health outcomes, such as caffeine toxicity and cardiovascular events.”

The ABA reprimanded the panel for its comments on caffeine, which the trade group said “arbitrarily focused on a single category of products – energy drinks.”

“Other sources of caffeine, like coffee, contain the same and oftentimes significantly higher amounts of caffeine than energy drinks, and contribute a much larger proportion of caffeine to the American diet,” the ABA said. Thus, the Committee’s approach to caffeine is inconsistent and far from scientific.”