Do Argentines know what they are eating? After the newly enacted Healthy Eating Law they will

A public health notice on the street in Latin America

Maggie Wetzel, our Policy and Public Affairs Manager, looks at a newly introduced front-of-pack labelling law in her home country of Argentina

Argentina is a world leader for the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and ranks third among Latin American countries with the highest annual per capita sales of ultra-processed foods. 6 out of 10 adults in Argentina are overweight or obese, and the rate of overweight children under 5 is the highest in Latin America at a staggering 13,6. So we are excited to see that Argentina has joined the race to better its population’s health by making healthy diets a priority.

Congress recently passed the new Healthy Eating Law, commonly called the front-of-pack labelling (FOPL) bill, which will see the addition of visible black octagon shapes to unhealthy foods to indicate that a food is high in fat, salt, sugar and more.

If a food is deemed unhealthy enough to be included in this category, there are wider implications for its marketability and where it can be sold. These foods will not be sold in school environments; endorsements from sportspeople, children’s characters and scientific organisations will be banned; and all forms of advertising aimed at children and adolescents will be prohibited under this new bill.

But how this does this bill compare with progress in the rest of Latin America?

An example of food labels on unhealthy products in a Latin American store

Road to healthy eating in Latin America

Chile was the trend-setter and the first in the region to introduce a FOPL law in 2012, stating that foods with an excess of critical nutrients must be labelled as “high in calories”, “high in salt” or with another equivalent designation. Recent evaluations show promising results from this intervention, with reductions in purchases of both sugar-sweetened beverages and “high-in” foods.

In Peru, nutrition warnings in the form of black octagons are also in force. The “Law for the Promotion of Healthy Eating for Children and Adolescents” was approved in 2013 and came into effect in 2017. Sadly though, by 2019, 70% of schools were still selling unhealthy foods in cafeterias and 60% of the schools had advertising of processed and ultra-processed foods. Manufacturers, however, did modify the ingredients and nutritional content of their products to comply with the law and thus avoid carrying octagons.

In 2018, Uruguay became the third country in the Americas to adopt FOPL. They granted food companies an 18-month adaptation period, allowing them until 1 March 2020 to implement their new labels. But the Uruguayan government not only extended the effective date to February 2021, but also established variations to the original regulation, evidencing pressure from the food industry.

In Mexico, the octagonal FOPL scheme has been in place since 2020. Unlike the Chilean regulation that inspired it, in Mexico products containing sweeteners or caffeine are also required to be labelled specifying their presence, as well as the warning “avoid or not recommended for children”.

Argentina’s bill examined

Finally, closing in on fifth place: Argentina. Here is the details on the new legislation aimed at reducing overweight and obesity:

  1. The law makes it mandatory to label food and beverages, informing the consumer about critical nutrients and guiding them towards healthier purchasing options.
  2. The proposed label is a visible black octagon shape; it must be on the front and cannot be less than 5% of the package size – hence – front-of-pack.
  3. The law prohibits the sale in school environments of products with a warning label or more, as well as the advertising of these products to children and adolescents using sports figures, scientific associations or children’s characters as part of the promotion.
  4. The new regulation requires compliance with the maximum values of sugars, saturated fats, total fats and sodium according to the limits of PAHO’s Nutrient Profile, thus promoting industry’s reformulation of their products.
  5. In products with sweeteners, the package must contain a sign that visibly warns that it contains sweeteners and its consumption is not recommended for children.

Like most countries in Latin America that have implemented similar legislation to improve their population’s nutritional health, we are not going to be able to see impact until governments execute rigorous mechanisms to ensure industry compliance.

However, the first step to limit the consumption of sugary drinks and ultra-processed foods has become a reality with the new FOPL bill in Argentina, and the region may soon have more countries following the path towards healthier diets, decreasing the risk of cancer and other non-communicable diseases.

> Find out more about FOPL in our Building Momentum reports

> See what other countries are doing in our NOURISHING database