In 2019, 74% of Chile's adult population was overweight or obese. Chile is thus the OECD country with the highest obesity and overweight rate, ahead of Mexico (72.5%) and the United States (71%). It is estimated that a person dies every hour due to being overweight and related illnesses (diabetes, cardiovascular disease, etc.). The problem begins at an early age: half of 6-year-olds are overweight and 5% are obese. This public health problem costs the state more than $ 3.5 billion annually.
One of the main explanations is the difficult financial access to healthy products (Chile is the OECD country with the highest level of economic inequality (GINI index: 0.47) but also the lack of education about nutrition, and information on product composition.
Since 2006, the Chilean government has been engaged in a fight against this scourge.
It was in 2006 that a reflection was launched by the government and the national assembly on the formulation of a law to curb overweight and obesity in Chile. It was Michelle Bachelet, then Socialist President of Chile and pediatrician, who initiated this battle, during her first term between 2006 and 2010. She completed it in 2016, during her second term (2014-2018) despite numerous attempts to obstruct from the food industries.
In 2016, Chile passed new legislation which aims to facilitate understanding of the nutritional content of processed products, promote nutritional education for the youngest and control the products to which these children have access.
The legislation adopted by the Ministry of Health is broken down into several components:
1. Labeling of food products rich in calories, sugars, salt and saturated fats:
Since June 2016, the labeling of any food containing calories, sodium, sugars and saturated fats in proportions higher than certain limits established by Chilean regulations, must include a specific mention.
The mention is formalized via an octagonal symbol on a black background and white edges comprising the terms "ALTO EN" (in English "RICH IN") followed by "GRASAS SATURADAS", "SODIO", "AZÚCARES" or "CALORÍAS" ( in English "SATURATED FAT", "SODIUM", "SUGARS" and "CALORIES").
The established thresholds are as follows:
|Calories (Kcal/100gr)||Sodium (Mg/100gr)||Total sugars (g/100gr)||Saturated fats (g/100gr)|
|Limits in solid foods||275||400||10||4|
|Calories (Kcal/100mL)||Sodium (Mg/100mL)||Total sugars (g/100mL)||Saturated fats(g/100mL)|
|Limits in liquid foods||70||100||5||3|
2. Control of advertising aimed at children and young people:
Any advertisement containing among other things infantile characters, animations, cartoons, toys, etc. had to be withdrawn when they encouraged the marketing of products rich in sugars, saturated fats, salt and calories. For example, all the mascots of the big brands of cereals widely consumed by children at breakfast have been removed from advertising visuals and products.
3. Integration of educational modules on healthy eating and physical activity in schools from an early age:
Chile’s kindergartens, elementary and secondary schools must integrate educational and physical activities into the curriculum to help children adopt healthy eating habits and warn of the harmful effects of a diet that is too high in fat, saturated fat, in sugars, sodium and other nutrients the consumption of which, in certain quantities, can constitute a health risk. Likewise, schools across the country must include sports, physical and practical activities to encourage pupils and students to lead active and healthy lives.
4. Withdrawal of certain products from the market:
It is prohibited to use promotional tools such as gifts, contests, games, stickers, toys, etc. in the marketing of products whose composition exceeds the established thresholds. For example, products like the kinder surprise marketed by the Ferrero company have been withdrawn from the market.
All products with the octagonal logo can also no longer be sold in schools, limiting their presence in the environment of children.
5. Tax on drinks rich in sugars:
This law is accompanied by an 18% tax on sodas rich in sugars.
6. Other uses of labels:
Octagonal labels can be used for other awareness-raising actions on healthy eating. For example, some higher education students receive financial assistance to help them buy basic necessities. Since the application of the law on the labeling of food products, this subsidy only gives access to products without an octagonal label, therefore respecting a certain nutritional composition.
It is still too early to estimate the impact of this legislation on rates of overweight and obesity, but a drop of almost a quarter (23.7%) in the consumption of sugary drinks was observed as soon as the new law, only in the space of 18 months. Almost 40% of Chilean citizens say they use symbols to decide what to buy. As a result, the food industry is reformulating products at an unprecedented rate, and warning labels are being removed from the new and improved options.
The little extra
This law is considered by the World Health Organization as the most ambitious and restrictive law implemented in the fight against overweight and obesity. Chile was the first country in the world to come into direct confrontation with the food industries and their marketing strategies. Many countries have been inspired or are inspired by Chile in building a model adapted to their own context: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, El Salvador or even Uruguay.
Last modification : 08 Jul 2020.
Chilean Ministry of Health
In 2016, Chile passed new legislation which aims to facilitate the understanding of the nutritional content of processed products, promote nutritional education for the youngest and control the products to which these children have access.