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Latin American Countries Crack down on Junk Food

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Health Issues page and our Appetite For a Change page.

While several Latin American nations have introduced healthy food laws to try to combat childhood obesity, implementation has proved trickier. Barbara Fraser reports from Lima, Peru.

Sergio Escalante got a shock at lunchtime on the first day of school this year. His school's food kiosk no longer offered the usual fare-potato crisps, cookies, sweets, soft drinks, and sandwiches dripping with creamy sauces.

"He came home and said there was nothing to eat", his mother, Miriam González, a nurse, recalled with a chuckle. "They were selling fruit and chicken sandwiches without mayonnaise-to him, that meant 'nothing to eat'."

The food concession was lining up with Peru's new healthy food law, which aims to tackle the country's rising obesity rate by getting children onto a healthier diet.

Peru's law is the latest in a series of efforts by Latin American countries to tackle a public health problem that has accompanied the economic boom of the past two decades-more overweight kids and an increase in non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular problems.

But although several countries have passed laws, implementing regulations have lagged, and some public health experts are calling for international measures-such as the ones used to tackle cigarette sales-to counter what they say is powerful lobbying by the food and advertising industries.

Peru's law immediately drew criticism from legislators, advertisers, and even the Catholic archbishop of Lima, who said that shaping children's dietary habits was a job for parents, not the government.

But the entire country will benefit if the government can head off future health problems by reducing children's consumption of salty, sugary, and high-fat processed foods, according to Luis Fernando Leanes, who heads the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) office in Peru.

"Being able to decrease children's exposure to these foods will mean more hospital beds free in the future to care for people with other illnesses", he said on July 9 at a conference in Lima on public policy for promoting healthy foods.    
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