14 Nov 2016

Implementing Public Policies to Promote Healthy Diets in Chile

Camila Corvalan MD MPH PhD, Assistant Professor at Institute of Nutrition and Food Technology (INTA), University of Chile, Santiago

This blog was written by Camila Corvalan and Marcela Reyes, University of Chile, Santiago.

In the past five years, the Chilean government has passed a series of regulations to improve the population’s dietary intake, attempting to curb the ongoing obesity and noncommunicable disease (NCD) epidemic.In 2014, the government implemented an 8 percent tax on sugar-sweetened beverages relative to other beverages.Since July 2016, food companies have been required to place front-of-package warning labels on processed foods and beverages high in sugars, sodium, saturated fats, and energy, and they will be prohibited from advertising and marketing these products to children 14 and younger. The marketing restriction represents the most comprehensive in the world to date.

The implementation of these regulations is the result of almost 10 years of intense discussions involving sectors such as health, agriculture, economy, and social development, as well as several actors, including politicians, researchers, and food industry representatives, among several others. During these years, key leaders continuously pushed for the approval and implementation of these regulations.

  • In academia, a public health nutrition professor played a key role by leading the WHO committee on chronic disease prevention. He actively disseminated data on Chile’s epidemic of obesity and NCDs as well as stressing the need for larger-scale actions. His participation has been critical for involving policy makers and providing credibility and scientific support to the entire process.
  • In the Senate, a medical doctor took the challenge, presenting a first regulatory draft and pushing for its approval. Over these years, this legislator has been key in raising awareness of this topic in the Senate and in public opinion.
  • In government, the chair of the nutrition department of the Ministry of Health has consistently led the process by maintaining a consistent point of view and prioritizing this agenda.

The Ministry of Health also convened several expert advisory committees to provide scientific advice and served as a hub for continuous communication among different sectors and actors. It did, however, have to make compromises in order to move toward implementation. For example, to get the approval of the agriculture and economic sectors in government, the Ministry of Health negotiated a phased implementation; the regulations will thus become increasingly strict over three years.

The process of implementation is still in the early phases. Its long-term sustainability depends on the strength of the government and its ability to maintain support from the different sectors, as well as on increased participation by civil society, which has not played a significant role in the adoption of the measures to date.

Will it be effective? An evaluation plan involving international researchers is already in place to assess whether the policies will attain their objective of improving diets among the Chilean population.

This excerpt originally appeared in panel 5.3 of the 2016 Global Nutrition Report.