By: Manuel Ferro, 3L
The Burger King – dethroned. Captain Crunch – demoted. Tony the Tiger – extinct. Chilean children’s favorite food mascots are the latest casualties of Chile’s war on obesity. Realizing that it is extremely difficult to change adults’ eating habits, Chile is instead focusing on transforming its youngest generation into a new breed of health-conscious consumers in an effort to reverse the growing obesity epidemic persistent throughout the Americas.
Chile’s adult obesity rate of twenty-eight percent is one of the highest among developed countries. More alarming is Chile’s childhood obesity rate – a quarter of school-age children are obese. In an effort to lower these figures, the Chilean government modified the country’s food labeling and advertising regulations in 2012. The new regulations, which took effect in 2016, include front-of-package warnings on unhealthy foods, restrictions on marketing directly to children, and limits on what foods could be sold in schools.
The cornerstone of this initiative is a labeling system that requires foods high in added sugar, saturated fats, calories, or added sodium to display black warning logos in the shape of a stop sign in the front of their packaging. Nothing with a black stop sign can be advertised to kids or sold in schools. That means no more toys in McDonald’s happy meals, Tony the Tiger on TV, or Skittles in school vending machines.
It is too early to tell if the new regulations are minimizing Chile’s obesity rates. It may take years to change adults’ eating habits. However, by prohibiting companies from marketing junk foods to children, Chile is hoping to transform its younger generations into a new breed of consumers. “Kids really do look at them,” said Dr. Camilia Corvalan of the University of Chile. “They’ll say ‘Mom, this has so many logos. I can’t bring them to school.’”
The new regulations also changed the behavior of an unlikely segment of Chilean society. Food companies now voluntarily modify their products in Chile to reduce sugars, salt, and saturated fats. According to AB Chile, a food industry association, twenty percent of all products sold in Chile have been reformulated in response to the law in an effort to avoid the dreaded black labels and the restrictions that come with them.
Chile’s policies have already become a model for other Latin American countries. Uruguay and Peru have approved similar warning labels and Mexico is looking to do the same.
Despite praise throughout the international community, Chile’s regulations may not last much longer in their current form. The Chilean food industry lobbies to repeal the regulations annually. PepsiCo and Kellogg have taken action in the courts, arguing that the regulations infringe on their intellectual property by not allowing them to promote their famous mascots. And the country’s new president has said he will take a second look at the law once he takes office. Even if Chile’s food revolution is reined in, the spark it ignited across Latin America will be hard for corporate interests to extinguish any time soon.