Millions of episodes of stroke, heart attack and cardiac arrests could be prevented if sugar is cut by 20 per cent in packaged foods and 40 per cent in drinks, a new study indicates.

A team of top doctors and researchers in America created a model to simulate the impact of a proposed sugar-reduction policy on health, the economy and health inequalities.

They found that the suggested measures could prevent 2.48 million cardiovascular disease events, 490,000 cardiovascular deaths, and 750,000 diabetes cases in America over the lifetime of its adult population.

In 2018, the National Salt and Sugar Reduction Initiative (NSSRI) produced targets for the reduction of sugar in packaged food and drinks within 15 categories.

Lead author of the new study, Dr Siyi Shangguan, who is an attending physician at Massachusetts General Hospital and an instructor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, said: “We hope that this study will help push the reformulation initiative forward in the next few years.

“Reducing the sugar content of commercially prepared foods and beverages will have a larger impact on the health of Americans than other initiatives to cut sugar, such as imposing a sugar tax, labelling added sugar content, or banning sugary drinks in schools.”

Sugary food and drinks are linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death in America. In addition, more than two in five adults are classed as obese, one in two people have diabetes or prediabetes, and almost half of the adult population has cardiovascular disease.

It is hoped that the policy proposed by the NSSRI could reduce health disparities, and improve the health of Black and Hispanic adults, as well as those on lower incomes and who are less educated.

As well as health benefits, the study model predicted that America could save $4.28b in healthcare costs 10 years after the NSSRI policy is implemented. It also found that $118.04b could be saved over the lifetime of the current adult population (ages 35 to 79). Taking into account the costs in lost productivity due to diseases associated with sugar intake, the NSSRI policy is predicted to save, in total, $160.88b over the adult population’s lifetime.

The team behind the latest study included researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital, the Friedman School of Nutrition Science & Policy at Tufts University, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

The study has been published in the journal Circulation.

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