Chile Targets Packaging in Battle Against Obesity Epidemic
Imagine, as an American consumer well-versed in the guile that companies call on to market their wares, heading to a supermarket to satisfy a serious cereal craving and not, for example, seeing Toucan Sam beckoning patrons to buy Froot Loops or Dig’em Frog compelling them to select Honey Smacks. Would their absence, or that of any other advertising character, encourage you to ponder what an onlooker might dub a “better” choice based on the hypothetical item’s nutritional value when pitted against the aforementioned breakfast options’ benefits? If you were a resident of Chile, a few of the powers that be would hope so, as packaging considerations have become a heavy means for the country to curtail a crisis that has led the health ministry to categorize three quarters of adults and more than half of 6-year-old children overweight or obese.
The whole idea of telling people what they should and should not consume will always yield passionate points from those who feel nobody should seek to reduce someone’s interest in any products and robust rebuttals from people who feel someone should step in to educate the masses on what exactly they are doing to their bodies when they reach for a questionable product. In Chile, the battle over bolstering the health of the population at large has gained in prominence over the last two years, with a controversial law leaving companies to rethink their advertising representation, which has been a semi-hard weight for some to carry, while proving a light endeavor for other entities who recognize the severity of the problem that the 18-million-people-strong Latin American land is facing.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers obesity “common, serious and costly” in the United States, estimating the annual medical cost of the problem at $147 billion in 2008 dollars. In Chile, the financial repercussions regarding the issue hit $800 million in 2016, good for 2.4 percent of all health care spending. As that figure will approach nearly four percent come 2030, the country is aggressively addressing what external appeal products could have on consumers so that those individuals might have fewer internal woes through their eating and drinking habits.
Whenever a government looks to exert might, one can expect proponents and adversaries of such actions to fatten their stances and stage campaigns to paint leaders as either saviors or intruders. The New York Times recently devoted considerable space to the ordeal, noting—to establish the depth of the duel—that authorities have forced the removal of cartoon characters from sugary cereals, imposed an 18-percent tax on sugar-laden beverages and placed stop sign-shaped warning logos on products high in calories, salt, saturated fat or sugar. The article tends to side with the government’s continued push to push for further legislation and regulation, with a chief argument for that perception coming through the author’s exchange with Senator Guido Girardi, who—due to his also being a doctor—proposed the supposed limits on marketing freedom 11 years ago and who stated “People have a right to know what these food companies are putting in this trash, and, with this legislation, I think Chile has made a huge contribution to humanity.”
Here in Philadelphia, due to a “sweetened beverage tax” that began in January 2017, we know all about dealing with plans to reduce our intake of that which seems void of nutritional merit, but nobody here is striving to modify the packaging of said drinks or other items through the removal of characters and logos. Yes, companies make changes to goods to make them healthier, such as the removal of sugar or an increase in its fiber content, for example, but unless an insignia is stirring up controversy, a live-and-let-live mindset (or live-and-let-sell mentality, in this case) rules the day. In Chile, however, appearance matters far more and Girardi and his contemporaries want to pound away at the obesity dilemma through what nutrition experts, according to the Times article, are calling “the world’s most ambitious attempt to remake a country’s food culture.”
Taking into account how many people this struggle encompasses and considerations of individual freedom and companies’ right to market their materials, is “ambitious” a proper choice here? Would you give Chile a chilly reception if you could speak with officials on the packaging problem?