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To curb obesity, Chile makes it harder to buy junk food—psychologically, financially and practically

Written by Diane Archer

To curb obesity, in 2016 Chile made it harder to buy junk food—psychologically, financially and practically, reports Andrew Jacobs for The New York Times. Chile has restricted advertising for some high-calorie foods targeted at kids, forced manufacturers to add warning labels to their junk food products, and imposed taxes on unhealthy foods.

The Chilean government’s laws are designed to promote better health and longer life by reducing the prevalence of obesity in the country. To reduce the appeal of unhealthy kids’ foods, Chile has banned Kellogg’s Tony the Tiger, Cheetos’ Chester Cheetah and Kinder Surprise. In addition, ice cream, soda and potato chips are not allowed to be sold in schools.

Moreover, manufacturers cannot advertise their unhealthy foods on television shows or websites aimed at young people. And, beginning in 2019, ads will not be allowed at all on television, on radio or in movie theaters between six a.m. and ten p.m.

The Chilean government also wants to encourage pregnant women to breastfeed their kids. So, it is banning advertising of infant formula beginning this year.

Plenty of unhealthy food is still available for sale in Chile, but there may be as much as an 18 percent tax tacked onto the price. The tax on Coca Cola is 18 percent. On top of the tax, manufacturers of foods high in salt, sugar, calories or saturated fat must show a big black stop sign on their packaging.

What’s most reassuring is that Chile was able to pass legislation of this kind notwithstanding the enormous opposition from the food and soda industries. That said, the biggest companies are suing the Chilean government, claiming that it is “infringing on their intellectual property.” The question is whether Chile will prevail and whether the U.S. and other countries will follow in its footsteps.

It’s not likely that the Trump administration will be regulating the sale of junk food, even though evidence suggests that even a small tax can make a big difference in promoting the public health. People with Medicare who are looking for help losing weight should take advantage of Medicare’s weight-loss counseling benefit as well as its nutrition-counseling benefit.

Virtually every country in the world is seeing their populations become increasingly obese. The World Health Organization reports that the prevalence of obesity has increased three-fold since 1975. Today, about 13 percent of the world’s adult population (650 million) is obese. Obesity increases the likelihood of  premature death. No other country has taken as comprehensive measures as Chile.

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