How Chile is Changing Food Advertisements

According to the World Health Organization, 240 million youth, 5-19 years old, were overweight or obese in 2016 world-wide. Since 1975, obesity around the world has almost tripled.

Commonly referred to as an epidemic, obesity rates continue to rise despite public health efforts regarding nutrition and physical activity.

One country, with one of the highest rates of obesity among children, has decided that enough is enough, and is taking what some think are drastic measures to change the country’s food culture.

Chile, a country known for its red wine, and its beautiful mountains and deserts, is also one of many countries in which obesity has become rampage. A whopping three-fourths of the population of Chile is considered overweight or obese. Over half of its six-year-old children are overweight or obese, according to its Ministry of Health.

Two years ago, the government took a big step in combating this nation-wide health concern by enacting a food law which prohibited chocolate, ice cream and potato chips, among other junk food, from being sold in schools. In addition, the law forbids these items from being advertised on television and websites targeted at children. Not only that, food companies had to remove characters like Cap’n Crunch (Quaker Oats Company) and Tony the Tiger (Kellogg) from their cereal box covers.

In 2016, the Netherlands Committee on Advertising Practice (CAP) initiated a similar but less restrictive ban, prohibiting cartoon characters and celebrities from being on promotional material for junk foods, although allowing them to be on food packaging. Advertisements for foods high in salt, sugar and fat in entertainment for children specifically cannot be shown anymore, though once again, there are loopholes.

Chile has taken it all many steps further and is continuing to do so, thanks to the rules implemented by technical advisors at the Ministry of Health. Next year, chocolate, ice cream and potato chip TV ads (marketed towards children) between 6 am and 10 pm will be withdrawn.

These changes are quite remarkable. No government has dared take such measures against multi-billion, multi-national companies. Children are so easily influenced so by eliminating characters that entice them to consume unhealthy, processed foods, they may not be as keen to eat them. This can lead to positive changes in the eating habits of future generations.

Furthermore, now in Chilean stores, food products high in sugar, fat, salt and/or calories are marked by black labels warning consumers. Because of this action, 20% of all food products in Chile have been altered (ingredient-wise) by companies to avoid these black labels.

There are those that say that the Chilean government has over-reached, and that it should not dictate the consuming habits of its population. However, the government is only encouraging the eating of healthier foods to try to curb the epidemic of obesity, which, according to the World Health Organization, is (along with overweight) the “fifth leading risk for global deaths”.

What Chile has done so far is revolutionary. They have shown that by restricting what these food companies can do, they will change in order to continue selling their products. Imagine if in the United States we could demand Doritos with no Red 40, which contains benzidine, a human carcinogen (presumably ‘safe’ in low quantities) or completely change a McDonalds’ menu?

Chile has shown us that we can demand that unhealthy products be altered to become healthier. The government of Chile has taken the initiative, but for countries like the United States, where food and beverage industries spend millions of dollars to lobby against progressive regulations, the consumers (us, the people) have to take the initiative.