Nina Zorfass, IIN Content Editor
Warning labels on unhealthy food in Chile were implemented because of growing alarm over obesity and other health issues.
Back in 2016, Chile’s government put into place some of the most ambitious efforts to curb the country’s obesity epidemic. It’s estimated that three-quarters of the country’s population was overweight or obese. A more alarming statistic in the eyes of the Ministry of Health of Chile was the obesity rate among children, with over half of six-year-olds overweight or obese – among the highest rates in the world.
These laws included:
Requiring Kellogg’s to remove cartoon characters from cereal boxes
Banning the sale of candy that use toys to entice young customers
Prohibiting the sale of junk food, such as ice cream and candy, in schools
Banning the advertisement of such foods during television programs aimed at a younger demographic, eventually leading to the total ban of advertisement of these foods between 6am and 10pm
Implementing an 18% tax on sugar-laden beverages, with soda a top offender
Implementing a labeling system – a black logo in the shape of a stop sign – on all foods high in sugar, saturated fat, salt, and calories
Many foods previously touted as “healthy” now carry the black stop sign warning label.
Begrudgingly, food companies complied with the law, removing the colorful cartoons and putting the warning labels front and center on their products.
Foods previously purchased because they were labeled “healthy,” “natural,” or “fortified with vitamins and minerals” were now branded with the warning label. This was alarming and even jarring for consumers, unsure what to think of the foods they were used to buying and eating.
It goes to show the lengths to which food companies will market their inherently unhealthy products to an audience they know won’t and don’t read nutrition labels. They rely on eye-grabbing marketing language, such as “healthy,” “low-fat,” or “whole-grain,” to sell products.
Implementation of warning labels gets consumers to pay more attention.
Consumers started paying attention to their food, including looking for whether a product had – or more important, didn’t have – a warning label. At the same time, companies looked for ways to adjust the product recipes to avoid requiring the warning label, such as reducing added sugar, sodium, and saturated fat. Schools and other places in the community where people can find food replaced the unhealthy options with healthier ones, such as whole fruit and nuts.
Children, who were so used to asking their parents for the sugary cereals with their favorite cartoons on them, began flipping the script. They were now the ones telling their parents to focus on healthier food options, explaining that if they brought a product with a warning label to school, classmates and teachers would be sure to point it out.
This is pretty remarkable. It’s imperative that children understand from a young age that what they put into their bodies has an impact on their health. Equipping children with the knowledge and empowering them to make healthier choices will create sustainable dietary habits and potentially reduce the rate of childhood obesity.
A study finds that four years after implementing label changes, consumption of sugary beverages drops dramatically.
Since Chile enacted these stringent laws, there’s been skepticism around whether they would actually work. The skepticism was warranted, given that soda taxes have been implemented in cities around the world with little evidence that they have as large of an impact on public health as they promise.
While these Chilean laws didn’t just focus on sugar-laden beverages, such as soda, the initial findings in this area are promising. In a study published in PLOS Medicine in February 2020, researchers found that since the enactment of these laws, consumption of sugar-sweetened fruit drinks and sodas dropped by nearly 25%.
The lead author of the study, Lindsey Smith Taillie, said of these findings: “It is a very promising sign for a set of policies that mutually reinforce one another. This is the way we need the world to go to begin to really combat preventable diseases like obesity, hypertension, and diabetes.”
How public health policies can be championed by Health Coaches around the world.
This news is really inspiring.
We’ve long known that the processed foods consumed by children and adults alike have major implications on health and well-being. Public health policies, such as the ones enforced in Chile, are a step in the right direction, empowering consumers to make healthier choices every day for themselves and their families.
Health Coaches (like myself) positioned to help clients make these healthier choices, even (and especially) if they don’t live in a place where these labels are in place. Understanding how to read nutrition and food labels is key. Health Coaches guide and encourage clients to flip over the package and look for the important indicators of nutrition: sodium, saturated fat, added sugar, and total calories.
Health Coaches are also able to help clients set health goals that include smaller, actionable steps to make healthier food choices. These goals can be set using IIN core concepts, such as bio-individuality, to find what foods work for them, and crowding out, which means adding in healthier options to leave less space for less healthy foods. It’s easy for a physician to tell a patient to stop drinking soda, but this advice comes without any tangible tools for putting it into real-life practice. Most people understand sugar has an addictive quality, and if you’re used to drinking a soda a day, you need tools – both proactive and reactive – to successfully decrease your sugar consumption altogether.
That’s where a Health Coach comes in. They have the training to break down the ultimate goal – stop drinking soda – into mini goals. You could limit sodas to weekdays, then every other weekday, and then once a week. Or before you drink a can of soda, drink the same amount of water. Or swap one of your weekly sodas with a juice; these are all examples of crowding out in action. Health Coaches provide the safe space their clients need to problem-solve creatively and take steps toward better health that’s truly tailored to the client.
It’s about making sustainable change, which doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time for positive change to occur on the individual level, as well as the global scale, to reduce obesity rates and ultimately prevent chronic disease.
February 25, 2020 blog post by IIN
Photo credit: Zhao Jiankang, Shutterstock