Spring 2022

Public Health in Practice: Nutrition policy in Latin America

article summary

Dr. Lindsey Smith Taillie works with researchers and lawmakers in Chile to develop warning labels for junk food and sugary drinks.

Gillings experts and students are engaging in practice that makes a difference locally, nationally and globally.

After Chile adopted a three-phase, evidence-based policy requiring warning labels on junk food and sugary drinks in 2016, Lindsey Smith Taillie, PhD, and W. R. Kenan Jr. Distinguished Professor of nutrition Barry Popkin, PhD, along with colleagues at the Global Food Research Program, worked with Chilean research collaborators on a project to evaluate the effects of the law. “We found that the policy was really helpful in shifting the healthfulness of what people bought,” she says.

Lindsey Smith Taillie, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Nutrition

Chile’s law didn’t just address warning labels. Over a three-year period, it banned marketing directed at children, banned commercials for junk food and sugary drinks on television from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., and banned sales of these products in schools.

“It went to a whole new level, changing the environment that kids are raised in with regard to food,” Taillie says. “Our evaluation showed that this policy works to reduce intake of products that have the labels.”

"It went to a whole new level, changing the environment that kids are raised in with regard to food."

Lindsey Smith Taillie, PhD

When a new president took office in Chile in 2018, Taillie supported Chilean colleagues in disseminating information about the law and its impact to officials in the new administration. “We were able to keep the law in place in Chile,” she says. Since then, “we have been working with people to use these results to inform policy in other countries.”

Taillie and colleagues worked with researchers and advocates in Colombia, which eventually passed a law similar to Chile’s. Similar laws have since been passed in Argentina, Peru, Uruguay, Mexico and Brazil. Real-world changes are what she dreamed of when pursuing a career in public health, she said. 

“Being able to work this closely to design laws that affect the entire food supply, and every person in that country, is super cool,” she says. “We can go and see it in action. We can go to the supermarkets in these countries and see these labels.”

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