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Food warning labels good for your health, says Healthy Caribbean Coalition

Posted: Thursday, August 6, 2020. 9:49 am CST.

By Aaron Humes: The Healthy Caribbean Coalition (HCC) points to two recent studies suggesting that front of package nutrition warning labels (FOPL) are good for your health, reducing the number of unhealthy food choices on the market.

And it may also help to slow the spread of COVID-19, with those carrying non-communicable diseases (NCDs) (hypertension, stroke, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer) having both a higher risk of severe infection and death from COVID-19.

Two new studies, one from Chile entitled Changes in the amount of nutrient of packaged foods and beverages after the initial implementation of the Chilean Law of Food Labelling and Advertising: a nonexperimental prospective study and the other from Mexico entitled, Predicting obesity reduction after implementing warning labels in Mexico: A modeling study, published in the research journal PLOS Medicine on July 28, 2020, have pointed to the importance of effective warning labels and strong policy actions to create healthier food environments that can contribute to lowering obesity rates and subsequently, diet-related diseases.

The Chilean study found that within a year of legal implementation in 2016, the proportion of products qualifying as “high in” energy, sodium, sugar, or saturated fat decreased from 51 percent to 44 per cent. More importantly, the quantities of sugar and sodium found in food products post-implementation were below the thresholds specified in the law, meaning that manufacturers used the law as a point of reference to ensure that their products would not receive a “high in” warning label.

Researchers from Mexico’s National Institute of Public Health estimate that Mexico’s warning labels on food and drink packages will reduce caloric intake, subsequently leading to a reduction in the national obesity rate and direct and indirect cost savings. The study projects that the policy of the mandatory use of warning labels on food and beverages exceeding established thresholds of added sugars, fats or sodium, which goes into effect in October 2020, could lead to a significant reduction in calorie intake of approximately 37 calories daily per person for snack and beverage intake. The study estimated a 14.7 percent reduction in obesity prevalence in the country, or 1.3 million cases, in the next five years. Mexico could also save an estimated US$1.1. billion in direct health care costs and US$742 million in indirect costs, lessening the impact of the costs associated with the inability to work, caregiver expenses and premature death.

The Coalition concludes: “The evidence on front-of-package warning labeling is clear – it works. The time to implement this policy in the Caribbean is now. The people of the region have a right to know what is in their food and governments of the region have an obligation to protect the health of their citizens which is primary as governments balance the delicate public health.”

The Caribbean region is currently engaged in an extensive consultative process aimed at ensuring that consumers have the information they need to make healthy food choices through the adoption of ‘high in’ (FOPL) as a key evidence-based, World Health Organization (WHO)-recommended, public health policy measure. This process is being led by the CARICOM Regional Organisation for Standards and Quality or CROSQ, the intended outcome of which is to approve the revised CARICOM REGIONAL STANDARD: Labelling of Foods – Pre-Packaged Foods – Specification CRS 5. Mandatory front of package labels was among a number of NCD priorities endorsed at the 39th Summit, CARICOM Heads of Government and State in 2018 in preparation for the 3rd UN High Level Meeting on NCDs.

The Coalition says NCDs account for 8 of every ten deaths in the Caribbean and 40 percent of premature adult deaths. Unhealthy diets contribute to high rates of obesity in children (1 of every 3 and projected to rise to 50 percent by 2030) and adults (in some countries, more than 2/3rds of adults are overweight or obese).

Half of CARICOM countries import more than 80 percent of what they consume and almost one-third of this imported food is energy-dense and high in fat, sugar, and sodium.


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