Eating packaged foods causes obesity

Unhealthy food: Too greasy, too sweet - how Chile bans food

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Our food is unhealthy and nobody tells us? Do we need the sugar tax and bold warnings that tell us: Attention, there is fat in here? What is meaningful health care, what is state paternalism? In California, for example, Starbucks will in future have to warn of cancer from acrylamide on coffee mugs. More misleading than helpful. And is even proves that warning labels change buying and eating behavior? The political scientist Tim Dorlach got to the bottom of such questions in Chile. The strictest food labeling law in the world applies there. A guest post

"No food police", "no nanny state". Julia Klöckner is against the clearer labeling of unhealthy foods. The Federal Minister of Agriculture recently said this several times. Researchers, regardless of whether they are from nutritional science or health economics, agree that the number of overweight people is steadily increasing worldwide, as is the number of those suffering from cardiovascular diseases, cancer or diabetes. Even children are affected. In Germany alone, 22 percent of all people are now considered obese. A global problem that could be solved if states regulate the food market more closely. The World Health Organization (WHO) has developed its own plan for this.

Doctors are demanding the sugar tax

In Germany, more than 2,000 doctors recently asked the federal government to campaign for both a nutritional traffic light and a sugar tax. However, the federal government does not seem ready to enforce the health interests of the population against the food industry, which fears reforms. What is feasible can be learned from Chile.

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Even if studies sometimes contradict each other and there are nutritional trends that repeatedly highlight something other than harmful: there is now consensus that too much sugar, salt and certain fats are not healthy in the long term. And known. In combination, they are particularly common in heavily processed foods, such as ready-made meals.

Tim Dorlach

is doing his doctorate at Koç University in Istanbul on social and health policy in emerging countries. In 2016 and 2017 he was in Chile for research stays and examined the political economy of the local food labeling law.

Unhealthy diet combined with too little exercise and the resulting obesity - these are the main risk factors for non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, cancer or diabetes. These common diseases not only reduce the quality of life. You were recently responsible for two thirds of all deaths in this country. Pronounced obesity caused, one im European Journal of Health Economics According to the published study, most recently annual costs of 63 billion euros for the German social security systems (Effertz et al., 2016).

However, an unhealthy diet is not just the result of individual decisions - which is particularly emphasized by the food industry (Obesity Reviews: Jenkin et al., 2011) - but also has structural causes. Due to the industrialization and globalization of the food market, the supply of unhealthy but cheap food has increased significantly (Journal of the American College of Cardiology: Anand et al., 2015). Children in particular get used to consuming unhealthy foods at an early age, not least through targeted advertising, long before they are responsible consumers (Annual Review of Public Health: Harris et al., 2009).

Since the food industry is enormously concentrated globally, individual corporations often have great market power and a great deal of influence over politics. Citizens, on the other hand, rarely take to the streets so that those in power protect them from diseases that they may only get in the future. Regulating what is manufactured and sold is therefore politically difficult. And yet it is necessary.

German and European politics have so far largely blocked the necessary reforms. The German Bundestag last discussed the introduction of traffic lights between 2007 and 2008. The application of the Greens was rejected with votes from the CDU / CSU, SPD and FDP. Interestingly, the CDU's rapporteur at that time was the current Minister for Food and Agriculture, Julia Klöckner. In 2010, the issue of traffic light labeling was discussed at European level, but the European Parliament also clearly rejected the proposal. At that time, the rapporteur for the European Parliament was Renate Sommer from the CDU. This is not the first time that the German Christian Democrats are opposing the stricter regulation of the food industry in terms of healthier nutrition for the population.

Chile's motto: Anything with a warning is unhealthy

In contrast, Latin American countries have become pioneers in health-promoting regulation. The world's strictest labeling law for food has been in force in Chile since 2016. For example, if something packaged contains more than 10 grams of sugar per 100 grams, this must be marked with an octagonal "high sugar content" symbol on the front. Chile chose this symbol because tests with consumers had shown it to be the easiest to understand. At the same time, the Ministry of Health started an awareness campaign with the slogan "Prefer foods with fewer warning labels. And if you don't have any, the better".

But that was only the first step. Based on the labels, sales and advertising of certain foods have been restricted. Labeled products may no longer be offered in schools: the end for sweets and sugary drinks in schoolyards. Therefore, recipes for school lunches also had to be changed - to healthier ingredients.

Chile's advertising restrictions are also innovative. Products with warning signs should no longer be aimed directly at children under the age of 14. Selling them in combination with toys, like at the McDonald's Happy Meal, or promoting them with cartoon characters: no longer permitted. Since then, comic heroes have stopped laughing from the cereal packets. From the end of May between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., advertising for products with labels will not be allowed on television or in the cinema. The only thing missing is an extra tax on labeled food. That is also being considered.