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School & Program Updates

School & Program Updates

INSP Mexico: Food Warning Labels in Mexico- A Public Health Achievement

The Mexican government recently voted to modify its front of pack labeling (FOPL) law, also known as NOM-051. On January 24, 2020, the Congress approved a modification that requires the food and beverage industry to place warning labels on packed products deemed high in calories, sugar, salt, saturated fats, and trans fats. The nutritional profile approved is mostly based on the Pan American Health Organization Nutrient Profile Model, a tool supported by evidence to classify processed and ultra-processed food and drink products that are in excess of calories and critical nutrients. In addition, the use of captions that signal if a product contains caffeine or non-caloric sweeteners was also approved, along with the statement “not recommended for children.” To go even further, a ban will be placed on advertising of unhealthy products to children—namely, those bearing the warning label—and the use of cartoon characters and drawings on these products will be prohibited.

The new warning label model is considered a cost-effective preventive measure to combat the high prevalence of obesity and diet-related non-communicable diseases. For instance, according to the Mexican National Health and Nutrition Survey, in 2018, 35.6% of children aged 5-11 years and 75.2% of adults were overweight or obese. The label will allow consumers to make healthier purchasing decisions in a simple and quick manner and, at the same time, improve the food environment, as shown by a recent evaluation in Chile, the first country to implement this model. Even more, it has been shown to be highly understood by the Mexican population, including those with limited literacy skills.

At the frontline of these efforts is the Mexican National Institute of Public Health (INSP-Spanish acronym), a member of ASPPH. Along with other academic institutions and the Secretariat of Health, INSP has led the efforts to develop the new FOPL system and participated, along with civil society and the partners mentioned above, in the technical discussions that culminated in the approval of this regulation. The process included a public hearing with over 5,200 contributions followed by more than 20 sessions coordinated by the Secretariat of Economy, in which all arguments and actors were heard and the evidence provided by leading international nutrition experts was carefully considered.

Given the multifactorial nature of obesity and therefore the need for a multifaceted strategy for its prevention, the FOPL system is one component of a national policy for obesity prevention, which includes taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages and unhealthy food products and other actions that are currently under construction by the Mexican Government.

Recently, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) released a statement publicly applauding the new FOPL and commending the Mexican government for its commitment to health, as well as for leading a transparent and democratic process to modify the law. UNICEF stated that Mexico’s warning label will be “one of the best in the world,” serving as an example for other countries. Moreover, it is hailed as a win for children’s wellbeing as a representative of UNICEF affirmed “our children deserve this—it is their right.”