It is common knowledge that, sugar consumption is linked to obesity, diabetes and other diseases. Nevertheless, there is still a lot to be done for food companies to adopt responsible marketing campaigns.

According to Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), unregulated marketing of unhealthy foods contributes to childhood obesity, and, in order to beat Non-communicable diseases (NCDs), PAHO recommends to remove cartoon characters and add front of pack labelling among others.

Moreover, a study by the PAHO showed that there is a close, directly proportional relationship between the increase in per capita sales of ultraprocessed products and growing obesity in Latin America.

Child looking up at a billboard with a picture of an ice cream cone

Nevertheless, in recent years, the practice called “nutri-washing” has increased. Nutri-washing is defined as the marketing strategies that food companies use to make a product appear as healthy or harmless when it is not. Sometimes food companies carry out these practices labeling a food as healthy or for example establishing advertisements in which foods without nutritional value are “part of a balanced diet.”

For example, in Argentina, last year one of the most important food companies in the country has launched a campaign called “tu porción justa” (your right-size portion).  As part of the mentioned campaign, different products such as chocolates and candies were labeled in green color with the motto “tu porción justa” which makes reference to the right size daily portion to consume these goodies, promoting the daily consumption of products whose main component is sugar.  Meanwhile, in Chile, same products of the same food company were labeled differently, with black color warnings like “high content in sugar”, “high level of calories and fat” contributing to raise child population awareness that is one of the most affected by obesity.

The campaign “tu porción justa” caused the negative reaction of different health non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the region when considering that this campaign was against the right to health of children and adolescents and the right to adequate information, noting also that it was against the World Health Organization (WHO) and PAHO recommendations. NGOs has claimed Front-of-package labelling to summarize the key nutritional characteristics of food products and, that the executive and legislative power in Argentina strengthens the regulatory framework for the packaging of these products. It is important to highlight that Argentina leads the ranking of childhood obesity.

Special attention must be paid in these practices. Through these, consumers are confused about what is healthy and what is not and furthermore, it encourages people to consume unhealthier processed food.

To combat obesity, international organizations such as WHO and PAHO have recommended to member states, to reduce sugars intake to make lower the risk of NCDs in adults and children, with a particular focus on the prevention and control of unhealthy weight gain.

In consequence, strong state policies are needed to educate and inform consumers about what they are eating to prevent them from being fooled by marketing strategies. In this way it helps people to take more conscious choices. Besides, better state regulations about the labeling of food products will be crucial to protect right to health of vulnerable populations.