New York City Passes the Sweet Truth Act, Requiring Warnings on Chain Restaurants’ Prepackaged Foods and Drinks that are High in Added Sugars

Advocates push to extend the bill to all chain restaurant menu items

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The New York City Council today passed the Sweet Truth Act, historic legislation requiring warnings on prepackaged foods and drinks that contain more than a day’s worth of added sugars (50 grams) at chain restaurants. The bill is the first of its kind in the U.S.—no other jurisdiction has implemented a warning on foods and drinks that are high in added sugar.

Unlike the natural sugars found in fruits and vegetables, which come with filling fiber and beneficial nutrients, added sugars are concentrated, empty calories, and their consumption has been linked to excess body weight in children and adults. Because they lead to weight gain, sugary drinks also contribute to type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

“The Sweet Truth Act is an important step in empowering consumers and encouraging the food industry to present healthier choices,” said CSPI senior policy associate DeAnna Nara. “However, it is just a start.”

The legislative victory creates mixed emotions for the bill’s advocates, as the version passed today only covers prepackaged foods sold in chain restaurants, such as bottled soda, instead of all meals and foods served at chain restaurants. Under this policy, New Yorkers ordering a 20-ounce bottled soda at a chain restaurant like Subway would have the chance to see a warning, but those getting a 20-ounce fountain drink at the same store would not. A recent report by the Center for Science in the Public Interest found that most “small” fountain sodas sold at the top 20 fast-food chains by revenue in the U.S. contain more than a day’s worth of added sugars.

“These warnings must be extended to cover all high-added sugars items served in chain restaurants, including fountain drinks,” said New York City Councilmember Mark Levine. “New Yorkers deserve—and want—the whole truth about their food and drink options.”

According to a recent poll commissioned by CSPI, roughly 85 percent of New York City residents (and 78 percent of residents statewide) support added sugars warnings on chain restaurant menus. Support is bipartisan, with 66 percent of registered New York State Republicans in favor of added sugar warnings on chain menus.

The passage of the Sweet Truth Act comes at a time when one New York City resident dies every 90 minutes from diabetes-related causes. The city experienced a 356 percent relative increase in diabetes-related deaths during the first wave of COVID-19, the largest increase in any urban area in the nation.

New York City has over two thousand chain restaurant outlets, many of which are fast food restaurants concentrated in Black and Latino neighborhoods. These restaurants consistently offer foods and drinks that approach or exceed the daily limit for added sugars, making it nearly impossible to consume these foods while adhering to the federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

The Sweet Truth Act is timed to go into effect one year after the COVID-19 emergency ends, coinciding with rebuilding efforts. Both the New York City Council and Mayor-elect Eric Adams have the authority to extend the Sweet Truth Act to fountain drinks and other items prepared in-store.

“We urge Mayor-elect Eric Adams to work with the New York City Health Department to extend the Sweet Truth Act to all menu items at chain restaurants,” said Nara. “This is a critical opportunity to create a healthier New York City.”