Latin America Leads The Fight Against Junk Food With The US On The Sidelines
While countries such as Chile and Mexico enact experimental policies to curb obesity, the US remains yoked to sugars and fats
Poverty and hunger will sadly always be with us. But in today’s age of abundant calories, the poor may also be obese – something governments in Latin America are waking up to.
These countries are fighting junk food directly with a slew of initiatives that are making the region an incubator for ideas that could be adopted elsewhere, including in the US.
Chile, worried about expanding waistlines, has a new labeling system that comes into effect this year. The legislation forces food makers to emblazon packages with warning labels if their food is high in sugar, salt, calories or fat. There will also be a ban on advertising unhealthy products to children.
“This is absolutely astounding,” Marion Nestle, the influential food blogger and professor of food policy at New York University told the Christian Science Monitor. “I’ve never seen anything like this before.”
Jason Block, An Assistant Professor At The Harvard Medical School’s
Jason Block, an assistant professor at the Harvard Medical School’s obesity prevention program in Boston, believes Chile’s moves show promise, especially as the country is using a comprehensive approach in fighting obesity.
“This is important and has more chance of success than simply doing one thing,” he said by email. “Also, Chilean leaders seem willing to try a muted version of their proposal first and then build upon it after an initial trial period.”
The initiatives sweeping Latin America are making the region the world’s laboratory for government policy aimed at steering consumers away from processed food.
In a bold move last year, Mexico approved a tax of one peso (about eight cents) on each liter of sugary drinks sold as it tries to battle the country’s obesity crisis.
Other countries in Latin America have imposed taxes and banned McDonald’s from using toys to promote meals for children. Peru, Uruguay and Costa Rica have cut junk food from public schools since 2012, while Ecuador has imposed food labeling using a traffic light system.
Companies, for their part, feel they are being singled out. Arcos Dorados, the largest operator of McDonald’s restaurants in Latin America and the Caribbean, has criticized moves by government to target its restaurants but has also made changes to its menus.
“We changed our Happy Meals, cutting calories, sugar and salt, by bringing in fresh fruit, the option of cherry tomatoes, smaller French fry portions, and offering drinks of bottled water or milk,” said Sonia Ruseler, senior director, corporate communications at mofongos philly.