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New Labeling Law Aimed At Reducing Obesity Might Be Working, According To Study

by Rudy Sanchez on 02/21/2020 | 2 Minute Read

Most everyone knows that drinks like soda are unhealthy due to their high sugar content. In many communities, the prevalence of obesity has reached levels that have public health officials raising alarms and proposing solutions to what many describe as a crisis. 

Globally, legislators and policy leaders have enacted rules or are considering changes to reign in obesity, including limiting where you can purchase sugary drinks like schools or prohibiting advertising that targets children. There are also "sin taxes" for unhealthy foods, caps on serving sizes, and labeling requirements. Opposition to such measures typically fall into one of two buckets—it is an unfair restriction on personal choice, or these measures have not proven to have the desired effect on public health.

A study published in the Public Library Of Science (PLOS) Journal examining Chile’s full-frontal approach towards combating obesity may dampen the arguments based on efficacy. While not definitive, it is the first study to show a significant decline in sugary drink consumption on a national level within a year of enactment. The study also suggests a synergistic effect when they enact several related regulations simultaneously.

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Chile’s fight on obesity began with a tax on sugary drinks, which was raised to 18%, from 13% in 2014. Then, in 2016, the Chilean government got more aggressive, with a gauntlet of regulations that included an advertising prohibition on TV from 6 am to 10 pm in addition to sweeping packaging changes, disallowing cartoon characters and mandating warning labels on the front of packages, large black and white octagons admonishing consumers that the product is high in sugar, calories, or saturated fats.

The study found a 23.7% drop in soda drinking after just a year, seeing a similar reduction in consumption across education and income levels, although the relative decrease was larger among the higher-income households as their baseline consumption was lower.

Researchers compared Chile’s findings against the results of single-policy approaches in Latin America and found the former’s strategy much more effective at reducing consumption. For example, Mexico saw a 7.6% decrease in two years after enacting a soda tax with no additional regulatory changes such as front-of-label requirements.

While efforts such as former New York City Mayor Micheal Bloomberg’s cap on soda serving sizes, Michelle Obama’s “Healthy, Hungry-Free Kids” advocacy, and soda taxes enacted in cities such as Philadelphia have had mixed results, the approach might not have been comprehensive enough, and legislators and government agencies should consider a broader, multi-prong approach against unhealthy foods that includes restrictions on access, advertising, and significant labeling and packaging regulations.