The Not So Sweet Truth
How high amounts of sugar continue to impact New Yorkers' health, and what the Interfaith Public Health Network is doing about it.
Many fountain drinks served by fast-food restaurant chains contain more than a day’s worth of added sugar. Sugary drinks and foods are harmful to the American diet because they can lead to a myriad of chronic diseases and conditions like type 2 diabetes, obesity, and hypertension. Even in a pedestrian-friendly city like New York, communities are not spared from the harm that excessive sugar can cause. In fact, diabetes is the 4th leading cause of death in New York City, and over half of adult New Yorkers have overweight or obesity – a large risk factor for type 2 diabetes.
The Sweet Truth Act is a bill that would require chain restaurants in New York City to add high sugar warning labels to menu items that exceed the daily amount of recommended added sugar consumption, which is about 50 grams or 12.5 teaspoons, per the U.S. Dietary Guidelines. In addition to helping New Yorkers understand the amount of hidden sugars in some of their favorite restaurant foods and drinks, this legislation also helps educate community members about the risks of high sugar consumption which by default, can contribute to healthier eating habits overall.
At the Interfaith Public Health Network, our mission centers around bringing faith groups together to help address public health issues that affect communities. Any community in New York City, regardless of religious affiliation, can be impacted by chronic disease, which is why faith leaders have an especially important role to play in educating their congregants about the risks of excessive sugar consumption, promoting healthier habits, and advocating for evidence-based public policies that have the potential to save thousands of lives.
Working alongside several other organizations, including the project’s lead, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, IPHN has supported this legislation through awareness and education building, convening rallies with supporting organizations and faith groups, working with NYC Council Members to garner their support, and organizing and delivering testimony in NYC Council hearings.
IPHN had the opportunity and privilege to organize and provide testimony in support of the measure at the 2/1/2023 hearing of the NYC Council Committee on Health. As IPHN co-founder and co-convener Kelly Moltzen shared at that hearing, “We at IPHN have been proud to help coordinate the community advocacy response for the Sweet Truth campaign with our colleagues at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. This is an issue of deep concern across faith-based and other community organizations across the five boroughs. It's clear that we are beyond the point where the issue of added sugars in the diets of New Yorkers can be minimized or trivialized.”
Local faith leaders also testified at the hearing that the Sweet Truth Campaign was a needed policy in order to address an important public health issue that impacts their community. For example, Rabbi Yonah Berman of the YCT Rabbinical School in Riverdale talked about the intersection of health and faith traditions. He shared:
Throughout our sacred texts, there's an undeniable thread of tradition encouraging each individual and all of society to put into place measures for personal protection and communal safety. This bill helps our city and its residents to take steps in that direction by increasing public health, focusing on products that are ultimately particularly harmful to individuals and to the communities that they comprise.
Moving forward, as we await the Health Committee and full Council votes on the Sweet Truth Act, we encourage members of the community and other faith groups to share their support of this campaign by sharing details about the bill, statistics around the harmful impacts of sugar and other campaign resources found at the Sweet Truth Campaign website. The Sweet Truth Act is one of many future reforms that can help reduce chronic disease rates and increase food-related knowledge, which in turn, creates healthier New York City communities.
Amanda Gottlieb is a recent graduate of the CUNY School of Public Health master's Program. With a focus on Community Health, Amanda hopes to use her degree to influence public health communications and national campaigns. In her current role as a marketing professional at a type 1 diabetes nonprofit, Amanda works to promote type 1 diabetes education and resources to families, and leads the communication efforts for their type 1 diabetes screening and clinical trials education program. Currently residing in Brooklyn, Amanda enjoys discovering new restaurants and local theater. In her spare time, she enjoys gardening, cooking and catching up on the latest HBO show.