Chilean food law decreases country's obesity rates

By CINDY JIANG | February 22, 2018

Obesity has been and will continue to be a growing problem all over the world. In late 2017, obesity rates in the United States were at a record high. About 40 percent of adults and 20 percent of American adolescents were reported to be obese.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), obesity is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) above the average relative to the weight and height of an individual. The BMI is calculated by dividing one’s weight (in kilograms) by one’s height squared (in meters).

Among adults, those with a BMI greater than 30 are considered obese while among children, those with a BMI above the 95th percentile for their specific age group are considered obese.

Chile, a South American country ranked in the 20s for countries with the highest rates of obesity, is aware of the growing problem and has enacted a food law two years ago that limits the sale of junk food in the country. 

“Sugar kills more people than terrorism and car accidents combined,” Chilean physician and politician Guido Girardi said, according to the New York Times.

Currently in Chile, junk foods, such as Frosted Flakes, Cheetos and even ice cream, are not allowed to be sold in schools. 

The Chilean government plans to completely wipe out advertisements promoting junk food from TV programs and radio stations broadcasted throughout the country. 

For the foods that are sold in the country, a new labeling system requires packaged foods high in sugar, salt, saturated fats and calories to be marked with a black stop sign. 

In the grocery store, Frosted Flakes cereal boxes are Tony-less and Nesquik’s chocolate milk are bunny-less. Instead, the items are covered in warning signs. 

Drinks that are high in sugar content, such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi, now include a hefty 18 percent tax. 

Sam Randall, a junior applied math and statistics and public health double major, reacted to this news in an interview with The News-Letter

“What struck me was how similar [this law] is to the U.S. governmental policy on cigarettes. There seems to be really interesting parallel rules on advertisements between sugar and smoking,” Randall said.

In reality, the law was put into action not only because of the growing rates of obesity in the nation, but also due to its economic costs. According to the New York Times, $800 million went into Chile’s spending on medical treatment for obesity related issues in 2016. 

Although the Chilean law may seem drastic, it seems to have changed how food industries view the consumer population. Food companies have been voluntarily modifying their products to avoid the dreaded black logos. 

For example, Nestle has reduced the amount of sugar in many of their products. More than 1,500 items sold in Chile have been modified in some way in response to the law.

Globally, obesity affects approximately 650 million adults and 125 million adolescents.

Obesity, however, isn’t just a number and a page of statistics. Rather, it can lead to many negative long-term effects. Those who are diagnosed with obesity have an increased risk of developing coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, liver disease and more. 

“It’s difficult to be optimistic at this point,” said Dr. Frank Hu, chair of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health in an interview with NBC News.  

Hu said that obesity has quickly become a worldwide epidemic. 

“The trend of obesity has been steadily increasing in both children and adults despite many public health efforts to improve nutrition and physical activity,” Hu said.

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