Putting “Added Sugar” On Food Labels Likely To Confuse Shoppers

A new study is suggesting that consumers are likely to get confused if companies begin putting “added sugars” onto the food labels. This comes as United States health officials are considering putting “added sugars” on food labels to help Americans cut back on the empty calories and sweet products. These new added sugars labels can help people when it comes to knowing which products contain sugars that have little to no nutritional value, while also telling people how much natural sugar is in some of the products they consume on a daily basis. The researchers were also trying to figure out whether or not the new labels that have been proposed would be a good idea or whether people would stay away from the products that had high added sugar amounts in them.


Researchers showed consumers nutrition panels that had broken down the “added sugar” grams as part of the total grams of sugar, and many people were miscalculating the amounts of sugar. When the consumers were looking at the nutritional panels that did not break down the “added sugars” numbers, most people were able to correctly calculate how much sugar was in the product. These nutrition labels were more like what we see on store shelves now, so it made sense the consumers were more likely to correctly calculate the totals. The co-author of the study, Kris Sollid, who is the director of nutrients communication at the International Food Council in Washington D.C said that “ From the consumer perspective, the ability to quickly and accurately synthesize food label information when shopping is paramount.” Sollid also said that “Our research shows significantly greater comprehension occurs when `added sugars’ information is not presented.” This means that people are more likely to understand the nutritional labels when there is not a breakdown between “sugars” and “added sugars” even though the point was to show consumers how much added sugars were in the products.

The food labels currently just have to state the amount of sugar in the product, but the Food and Drug Administration is proposing a change to the labels, which would add the “added sugars” line to help consumers know how much sweetener is natural compared to how much is added to the product. These new labels would also include a more prominent placing of the total number of servings and calorie information. The U.S. Department of Agriculture considers the “added sugars” to be empty calories since it does not contain any nutritional value. The U.S. Department of Agriculture sets the dietary guidelines and the agency believes adults who eat 2,200 calories a day need no more than 265 empty calories a day. The Food and Drug Administration says that most of the added sugars are coming from soda, energy drinks, sports drinks, grain-based desserts and sugar-sweetened fruit drinks.

Sollid and his colleagues interviewed 27 adults in Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Baltimore to see how people would interpret the new labels. The consumers interpreted the new labels in many different ways, including some people who thought the “added sugars” were additional to the sugars that were shown in the line above on the label. Other people understood that this meant the manufacturer put more sugar into the products, while other people saw these “added sugars” as less desirable. The researchers then surveyed 1,088 men and women to see how they use nutritional fact panels now and to see if they would be able to interpret the data from the “added sugars” correctly. Consumers were able to tally the total amounts of sugar in the products 92 percent of the time without the “added sugars” label. When the “added sugars” label was used, which was indented on a line below sugar, they were only correct 55 percent of the time. 66 percent of participants were able to get the amounts right when they first looked at the label with added sugars on a line below the total sugar. 45 percent of people who frequently read food labels at the store incorrectly identified the amounts of sugar when they looked at the label with the different lines for “sugar” and “added sugar.” The study results were published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. In light of the results, Sollid said that “ There is insufficient evidence that listing `added sugars’ on nutrition facts panels would yield meaningful reductions in calorie consumption or improvement in public health.”

The issue is that if you consume too much of the added sugars you can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and even specific types of cancer. If there was a label that consumers could easily understand, then it might help people understand just how much added sugar is in the products they are consuming. It really is all about the design of the labels, with a line specifically stating how much sugar was added and how much sugar was in the drink all together.

A lot of people are not sure how much added sugars they are ingesting in most foods, since added sugars is not currently listed on most nutritional labels. If there are added sugar labels on products, then more people will be aware of just how much of these items they are consuming daily, which can lessen the risk of diseases and also help people know which products they need to only consume smaller amounts of. The changes to the food labels is not known right now, with the Food and Drug Administration unclear of when they will be changing things, since there is a long process to go through before changes are final. This study might actually delay any changes to the nutritional labels, since the labels used for this study were the ones proposed by the Food and Drug Administration, which means that the agency might want to think about redesigning the labels to make it more clear about what added sugar means and how much added sugar is in the said product.


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Jeanne Rose
Jeanne Rose lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, and has been a freelance writer since 2010. She took Allied Health in vocational school where she earned her CNA/PCA, and worked in a hospital for 3 years. Jeanne enjoys writing about science, health, politics, business, and other topics as well.


  1. With regard to this study, we would like to point out that our member companies are committed to featuring clear labels on our products. For example, as a part of the Clear on Calories initiative launched in 2010, beverage companies put new labels on the front of every can, bottle and pack to make it easier for people to choose the drink that is right for them and their families. This is just one example of how the beverage industry is helping consumers make informed choices as part of an active, healthy lifestyle.
    -American Beverage Association