NYC looks to mandate sugar warnings from chain restaurants

A bill passed Thursday by the City Council will require alerts to be posted on menus and menu boards next to items containing what officials determine to be excessive amounts of added sugar.
Sodas seem to be a primary target of the legislation. | Photo: Shutterstock

New York City lawmakers have passed a first-of-its-kind requirement that chain restaurants flag menu items containing what health regulators adjudge to be excessive amounts of added sugar.

The measure is binding on any local unit of a restaurant chain with at least 15 branches nationwide. Failure to comply will result in fines of $200, according to the legislation.

The restaurants will be required to post “sugar icons” and print warnings on their menus and menu boards adjacent to the high-sugar items.  

Only products that are also available in or outside of the restaurant in prepackaged form, like sodas, need be flagged initially. That stipulation is apparently intended to provide immediate information on the sugar content of various items.

If the U.S. Food and Drug Administration should expand its menu labeling requirements to include added sugar, as many health advocates have urged, any sugary item on a chain restaurant's menu would require the warnings.

The threshold mandating the alerts will be based either on U.S. Food and Drug Administration sugar-consumption guidelines or the recommendations of New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

The bill requires the city to decide on the sugar icon, warning language and determination of what’s an excessive level of sugar by next June. The labeling requirement takes effect in 2025.

The Sweet Act, as the legislation is called, supplants a law that was passed in 2021 by the City Council but suspended before adoption because of the pandemic. That earlier legislation was far more limited, with the labeling requirement limited just to pre-packaged foods sold in restaurants, such as bottles of soda. The new version will eventually be applicable across the menu.

The Centers for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a public-health watchdog, called the bill “historic.” It estimates that 2,000 restaurants in New York City will be affected by the act if it’s signed into law by Mayor Eric Adams.

In announcing its support for the measure, CSPI said its research has indicated that even small-sized fountain sodas are likely to merit the warnings.

It asserted that a New Yorker dies every 90 minutes from diabetes-related health issues, “and the new law reflects a much-needed step towards reducing diabetes and other diet-related conditions.”

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