Does Food Labeling With Nutritional Warnings Work?

A Study Reveals the Extent of the Real Impact of Food Labeling with Nutrition Warning Labels. Here we tell you What the Findings Were.

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LatinAmerican Post | David Rivadeneira Soto

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Leer en español: ¿Sirve el etiquetado de alimentos con advertencias nutricionales?

Decisions in Latin American countries aimed at creating warning labels on the nutritional content of food are intended to influence improving health from food. That purpose leads us to think about the phrase of the German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach: "We are what we eat." In this sense, a recent study, published in The Lancet Regional Health Americas , carried out by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the University of Nevada, analyzes the scope of these measures and their true impact in the countries that apply them. have implemented.

The study was published on December 1st in the medical journal The Lancet. The work was carried out by researchers from the University of Nevada in Reno, United States, in conjunction with PAHO professionals. According to the organization No Comas Más Mentiras, the front-end nutritional labeling system (FOPNL) seeks to give citizens access to the greatest possible quantity and quality of information on the nutritional characteristics of a food product, so that they can take informed decisions without confusion.

Estudio revela que la expansión del uso del etiquetado de advertencia implementado por los gobiernos puede reducir las enfermedades relacionadas con la mala nutrición.

— OPS/OMS (@opsoms) December 6, 2022

The intentions of the implementation of warning labeling

According to the PAHO page, in Latin America, 35 countries have considered adding frontal nutritional labeling (FOPNL). Among these, Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, Uruguay; Brazil, Bolivia, Venezuela, and Colombia have formally implemented a FOPNL. A significant advance to establish regulations that promote well-informed citizen decisions.

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No Comas Más Mentiras  (Eat No More Lies) recalls that the World Health Organization (WHO) and PAHO propose this type of measure as part of initiatives aimed at preventing non-communicable diseases related to malnutrition, such as obesity, high blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and even some types of cancer.

Labeling effectiveness

The development in the implementation of prevention labeling measures has evolved over the years. The first countries to adopt mandatory warning measures were Chile in 2012, Peru in 2013, and Mexico in 2014, and the last to implement this type of policy were Colombia and Argentina in 2021. The study by PAHO and the University of Nevada manages to identify and evaluate the most relevant and effective characteristics when implementing food warning systems, helping to improve the application of these policies.

According to the study, front-end warning labeling policies indicate both what information should go on signs and what not to put on them. The FOPNL, says the report, aims to contribute to the understanding of citizens about the nutritional content of products, so that it translates into a decrease in the consumption of ultra-processed and processed foods with excessive fat, sugar and salt content, promoting in consumers the criteria for making healthier decisions.

The study points out in its review that the frontal nutritional labeling system has improved since its inception by using, today, larger warning labels, with octagonal shapes, with backgrounds that contrast with the colors of the product packaging, which It gives them better visibility. Likewise, the use of the word "excess" instead of "high in" facilitates understanding by buyers, making these terms more effective. It also allows for the adoption of the PAHO nutrient profile model to better set limits for required nutrients.

Likewise, it is necessary that this type of measures be complemented with marketing regulations and healthy school feeding plans. Since ultra-processed food is associated with the development of various non-communicable diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, hypertension or cardiovascular diseases, it is expected that this labeling will reduce the consumption of ultra-processed foods and generate awareness in the population.

For Dr. Eric Crosbie, an associate professor at the University of Nevada School of Public Health and one of the study authors, the positive results in the effectiveness of front-end nutrition warning labeling are seen to scale, in a domino effect. "They have been shown to improve the nutritional quality of purchases and have been associated with better diet quality, which in turn is associated with a reduction in the risk of Noncommunicable Diseases (NCDs)," says the expert.

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