The Chamber of Deputies of Mexico has approved on Tuesday a reform in its General Health Law to change the labels of processed products high in sugars and saturated fats. The new legislation imposes frontal labeling and warning messages in order to provide clearer nutritional information and reduce the high rates of overweight the country faces.
Obesity affects 32.4% of its population, according to the Ministry of Health, and Mexico is the second most overweight country in the world after the United States. With this reform, Mexico becomes the third country in Latin America that will implement warnings on food and non-alcoholic beverage labels, after Chile passed similar legislation in 2016 and Peru raised it this year.
The motion was approved by the lower house with 458 votes in favor and two abstentions. Once reviewed by the Senate, the reform will require that all packaged products that go on sale include black labels with a warning about their contents “High in calories”, “High in sodium”, “High in saturated fats”.
According to the 2016 National Health and Nutrition Survey , 76% of Mexicans are unaware of how many calories they should consume per day and 46% admit that they do not understand nutritional labeling.
“The labeling is the only source of information that the consumer has and must be understandable,” said Deputy of Morena (the ruling party) Miroslava Sánchez Galván, when presenting the motion in plenary.
Alejandro Calvillo, director of the organization El Poder del Consumidor and coordinator of the Alliance for Food Health a network of civil associations and social organizations born in 2012 with the aim of developing public policies against obesity celebrates the reform with caution. “In the last two six years there was no legislative interest on this, but today we live a certain openness,” he says. For Calvillo, “Mexico is experiencing an epidemic of obesity, especially children. And the hardest thing in terms of health policies is to lower children’s obesity. ” “But somewhere you have to start,” he admits.
Mexico is the Latin American country with the highest obesity rate in the adult population. According to the World Health Organization , 28.9% of Mexicans over 19 suffer from it. Similar percentages are given in Chile and Argentina.
In 2017, 14.8% of Mexican youth between 5 and 18 years old are obese. Mexico ranks sixth in the region in terms of obesity in minors, but the first five are not so far away: Bahamas leads the index with 17.3%, followed by Argentina (16.9%), Chile (15.2%) , Dominica and Dominican Republic (both with 15%).
Among these countries, only Chile has regulated food labeling. Its law, effective since June 2016, not only establishes that food warns with a seal on the label if the product is high in sodium, sugars or saturated fats, but also strongly regulates advertising focused on minors.
In this country, since last year, the famous Tigre Toño can no longer appear in the Zucaritas cereal box and Kinder Surprise chocolate eggs are not sold either because the law prohibits both animated characters and toys used as a commercial hook.
Even so, overweight rates in Chile have not dropped . According to Lorena Rodríguez Osiac, an academic from the School of Public Health of the University of Chile and who drafted the law of the Ministry of Health, “the rates cannot be expected to fall in two years. More than one generation has to pass for tangible changes to be seen.”
The Chilean model, he explains, has three aspects frontal warning on the product, the prohibition of advertising aimed at children and the prohibition of the sale in schools of food that exceed the limits of sugars and saturated fats established by the Ministry of Health.
“What we did expect was that the industry complies with the law and that people become aware of the products they consume,” concludes Rodríguez Osiac, “and those changes have been seen.” The motion voted on Tuesday in Mexico partially follows the Chilean model, since it will only regulate the frontal labeling so that the reference values are understood by the entire population.
Calvillo agrees with Rodríguez Osiac that the important thing is consumer awareness. “Mexico is an impressive food producer. For the price of a soda you can buy four kilos of seasonal fruit, the point is to realize that. ”