Facing skyrocketing rates of obesity, Chile is waging war on unhealthy foods

With a phalanx of marketing restrictions, mandatory packaging redesigns and labeling rules Chile aimed to transform the eating habits of 18 million people. Why don't we copy it here?


Rico’s TICO BULL – Rich or poor, no country is immune to the rapid rise in overweight and obesity among both adults and children. But a few are finding they can push back, making sure their citizens get clear information about the food they buy.

One of my favorites. In Costa Rica there are no warning labels on this product or any porduct like that found in Chile.

In 2016, Chile took the bold step, passing a food labeling and advertising law, establishing a regulatory framework on food security and healthy food with the intention of guiding consumers towards behavior patterns that promote public health.

The New York Times has characterized this measure as “the world’s most ambitious attempt to remake a country’s food culture” and suggests it “could be a model for how to turn the tide on a global obesity epidemic that researchers say contributes to four million premature deaths a year.”

In sweeping war on obesity, Chile killed Tony the Tiger.
Examples of cereal boxes from Chile with their mascots, left, and without. From NYtimes.com

“They killed Tony the Tiger. They did away with Cheetos’ Chester Cheetah. They banned Kinder Surprise, the chocolate eggs with a hidden toy,’ reported Nytimes.com last year.

The law specifically regulates the delivery of nutritional information on foods high in sodium, saturated fats, sugars or calories. The standard also prohibits the sale of such foods in educational institutions and limits the advertising of these products to children under fourteen.

The law requires all food products marked with octagons on the front of their wrap. This alerts consumers to those foods high in sodium, calories, sugars or saturated fats – which in amounts are harmful to health.

With that they have achieved two things:

  1. Companies that produce food reformulated its content to make them more nutritious and avoid octagons.
  2. People prefer products without octagons and consume more beneficial products for their health.

This law was passed in 2016 and gave the industry three years to adapt. It is one of the best laws on food consumption in the world.

Only one label?

In fact, several countries have expressed interest in the Chilean standards and have considered their content in developing their own countries’ labeling regulations, including Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, Mexico, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, El Salvador, and Uruguay.

In addition, international organizations — including the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the Pan American Health Organization, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization and World Health Organization, the Union of South American Nations and the OECD — have expressed support for the Chilean food labeling

Medicalexpress.com reports that a study conducted jointly by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health, Diego Portales University, and University of Chile found that Chilean mothers understood and perceived the benefits of the country’s new policies aimed at combating childhood obesity and that their awareness influenced their spending habits.

Breadsticks (grissini in Italian) look innocent enough. Was I wrong! The photo is from a post on Facebook by former Costa Rica president José María Figueres Olsen, while visiting Chile, who opened my eyes to my unhealthy choices.

Why don’t we copy it here? It would be great!

Surely there is an obesity problem in Costa Rica. Anyone who has been here for more than a decade has noticed the change over the years.