LEVELS HEALTH – The National Salt and Sugar Reduction Initiative (NSSRI) is a consortium of more than 100 local, state, and federal health departments initiated by the New York City Health Department.
Its goal is to set voluntary industry targets for reducing sugar and salt in 15 categories of processed foods. The effort was modeled after a similar program in the UK.
The group released its final recommendations in February 2021. In general, it called for a 20% sugar reduction in most categories and 40% in sugar-sweetened beverages (from 8.9g per 100ml in 2018 to 5.6g in 2026).
This study sought to analyze the potential impact of these recommendations on overall health and healthcare spending.
Researchers based their model on NHANES data and created a simulation population of 1 million people who they followed to age 100 or death, looking at 10-year and lifetime outcomes. They assumed a gradual 8-year adoption of the changes.
They found that the changes would prevent nearly half a million cardiovascular deaths and three-quarters of a million cases of diabetes over a lifetime (a mean of 28 years in the simulated population).
They estimated the effort would cost the industry around $23b but would save around $120b in healthcare costs, $160b if they included factors like productivity and informal care.
And they found the results scaled: even if the industry only achieved 50% compliance, we’d still achieve 50% of the benefits.
Although there are many limitations to this kind of study—NHANES data is self-reported, models make many assumptions—the numbers involved are at a scale that’s worth paying attention to.
Trying to achieve society- or industry-wide change can feel like an impossible task, so it’s encouraging to see that even relatively modest reductions in sugar—not eliminating it, just reducing it 20%—could have a meaningful impact on hundreds of thousands of people …