As The Government Cracks Down On Processed Foods, Big Sugar Is Feeling The Heat

While the old nursery rhyme might reference "sugar and spice and everything nice," consumers might not find government intervention in the amount of sugar in their food quite as pleasant. Although balanced eating approaches might sound simple, it takes willpower to choose an apple over an apple fritter. Still, the choice happens, and it seems that government agencies are hoping to push consumers into making a lower sugar choice.

When the Federal Food and Drug Administration sought to better define the "healthy" food labeling term, it shared that 63% of people exceed the recommended limit for added sugars. While the FDA can impose regulations on terminology, it cannot force the consumer to eat fresh fruits or vegetables instead of pizza. Unlike the parent who can require the petulant child to finish their broccoli, the government cannot lift the fork for the eater. Providing information on a label can help shoppers make an informed decision, but there is still a choice to be made.

Courtney Gaine, Ph.D., RD, president and chief executive officer of The Sugar Association, told Food Business News that companies are under governmental pressure to reformulate recipes to reduce sugar and processed sugars. While she believes that sugar has been cast as the villain in this story, the regulation does not address an individual's balanced eating choice. The old adage of calories in versus calories out still applies. It might be time to forget "pretty please with sugar on top" and just put down the spoon altogether.

Has government regulation caused consumers to change their sugar habit?

If that Frappuccino or Big Gulp was served with an image of all the sugar inside the cup, would it change a consumer's order? According to a 2022 CDC report, the U.S. obesity rate has increased to 41.9%. While the FDA has sought to better regulate the term "healthy," provide more nutritional labeling information, and entice consumers to make more balanced eating choices, it cannot force people to choose an orange over orange juice. Even if big sugar feels the pressure of a regulatory vice grip, the reality is that food consumption is a choice, not a mandate.

Although the term "healthy" is under FDA scrutiny, The New York Times discusses that terms like lightly sweetened and other label descriptors might not depict the hidden sugars in the recipe. Whether companies are using buzzwords to elicit a purchase can be debated.

In 2019, New York City sought to legislate warning notices on menu items containing more than 12 grams of sugar per serving, and years ago, San Francisco passed a sugar warning law on beverages. While the laws might serve a public health purpose, people may not appreciate the government influencing what foods they choose. The legislation might not have the intended impact as obesity rates have increased, not declined. At the end of the day, consumers make the food choice, regardless of regulations on big sugar.