Purchases of high-sugar beverages in Chile fell by almost a quarter following the implementation of new labelling and advertising rules, according to a new study.
Chile’s law of food labelling and advertising, which came into effect in 2016, jointly mandated front-of-package warning labels, restricted child-directed marketing and banned the sale in schools of all foods and beverages containing added sugars, sodium or saturated fats exceeding set thresholds (also called high-in food and beverages).
The study led by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health evaluated the impact of this policy package and found a significant reduction in household purchases of unhealthy beverages from 2015 to 2017.
“This regulation is different because it is the first to require warning labels about excess levels of nutrients of concern, such as sugar or sodium, on the front of food and beverage packages,” said Lindsey Smith Taillie, assistant professor of nutrition at the Gillings School.
“In addition, the regulation includes the world’s strictest limits on how and where food companies can advertise junk food to children. The reductions we observed in sugary drink purchases were markedly greater than those seen following the implementation of standalone policies – such as a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages – elsewhere in Latin America.”
Using data on 2,383 urban households’ food purchases from before and after policy implementation, the research team examined changes in purchases of high-in beverages over two years. They compared observed purchases after the rules came into effect with expected purchases had the policy not been implemented, based on pre-policy trends.
The team found that the purchase volume of high-in beverages decreased by 23.7% after the regulation took effect. The largest changes were in the amount of sweetened fruit drinks and sweetened dairy drinks purchased.
“What’s amazing about the Chilean regulations is how much they have already influenced international food policy,” Taillie added.
“From our work with advocates and policymakers, we know that at least a dozen countries have directly used Chile’s policies and the evaluation results to develop and inform similar policies.
“We expect that in 5-10 years, much more of the world will look like Chile with regards to putting clearer labelling systems on food and drink packages to tell people which products are unhealthy and cut through the noise created by food marketing.”
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