Should Sugary Foods Carry a Warning Label?

May 29, 2015

The Lempert Report set out to find out exactly what consumers know and look for when it comes to sugar in their foods.

The once overlooked component of the nutrition facts label, sugar, is now one of the central focuses of the nutrition facts redesign and moreover, legislators in New York and California are trying to add warning labels to soda, letting consumers know the dangers of too much sugar.

The FDA’s proposed change would require the declaration of “added sugars” in addition to total sugars, with the intention of helping consumers understand how much sugar is naturally occurring and how much has been added to the product. Many experts recommend consuming fewer calories from added sugar, because they can decrease the intake of nutrient-rich foods while increasing caloric intake.

In light of the new proposal, The Lempert Report set out to find out exactly what consumers know and look for when it comes to sugar in their foods. Here are the results of an exclusive consumer panel quick poll.

When asked generally which types of sweeteners they recognized, the panel was able to identify all of the choices: Cane sugar, brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, Splenda, stevia, agave, Equal, aspartame, corn syrup, and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Xylitol, coconut palm sugar, and date sugar were the least recognized.

The plurality, 43 percent, always reads ingredient lists to see which sweetener, if any, is in a food. Thirty-five percent usually reads the label while 10 percent reads about half the time or rarely, and two percent never checks!

What are the most popular sweeteners with the panel?  Seventy-six percent use honey, 69 percent cane sugar, 69 percent brown sugar, 63 percent maple syrup, 39 percent stevia, 29 percent Splenda, 28 percent agave, 26 percent corn syrup, and 23 percent aspartame.

When asked which sweeteners positively influence the decision to purchase a food product, here are the top five: Honey 52 percent, Cane sugar 40 percent, Maple syrup 36 percent, Brown sugar 33 percent, and Stevia 30 percent. 

When asked which sweeteners negatively influence purchase decision, here are the top five cited choices: HFCS 74 percent, Aspartame 72 percent, Equal 62 percent, Splenda 52 percent, and corn syrup at 47 percent.

To support the government’s effort to tease out the different types of sugars on the nutrition facts panel, the quick poll revealed that 82 percent of consumers believe that there is a difference between naturally occurring sugars and added sugars.  

To add to that, 96 percent of consumers surveyed do not believe that all sweeteners are the same (i.e. stevia and cane sugar) ; and, 77 percent do not believe that all sugars are the same (i.e. brown sugar and maple syrup).

Moreover, 65 percent of the panel are concerned about “hidden sugars” that they may not recognize on the ingredients list. 

According to the FDA, on average, Americans get 16 percent of their total calories from added sugars. The major sources of added sugars in the diet (with the highest sources listed first) are soda, energy and sports drinks, grain-based desserts, sugar-sweetened fruit drinks, dairy-based desserts and candy.