Intended for healthcare professionals


Chile passed tough measures to combat an obesity epidemic, so why does it still have an obesity problem?

BMJ 2024; 384 doi: (Published 13 March 2024) Cite this as: BMJ 2024;384:q584
  1. Carlyn Kolker, freelance journalist
  1. The Examination, New York
  1. kolkerwriter{at}

Ten years ago Chile cracked down on obesity with taxes, warning labels, and bans on unhealthy foods. Yet obesity rates have risen since. Carlyn Kolker asks why.

A decade ago, Chile began to tackle its soaring obesity rates with a law that has proved to be a model for other countries to follow. Through introducing a comprehensive range of measures, including taxes on sugary drinks, warning labels on unhealthy foods, and bans on junk food in schools, it hoped to curb obesity and the debilitating diseases associated with diets high in sugars and fats that follow.

Eight other countries, covering most of South America as well as Mexico and Canada, have introduced similar front-of-package labels, with some going further and implementing marketing restrictions and sugar taxes in an effort to improve their citizens’ health. In 2022, the US Food and Drug Administration said that it was also considering front-of-package label warnings for some foods it deems unhealthy, a move criticised by major food manufacturers including General Mills, renowned for brands like Cheerios and Häagen-Dazs, and Kellogg’s, known for its breakfast cereals and snacks like Pringles and Pop-Tarts.

Studies show that Chileans are choosing products with less sugar, fat, and salt,1 sometimes cutting purchases of sugar in foods by as much as 25%,2 but the country of more than 19 million people still faces a crushing health crisis. The obesity rate for adults over 15 years old actually increased in the years after the law was implemented from about a quarter of the population to more than a third—with rates among children also rising. Chilean government data show that child obesity rates increased from 16% in 2009 to more than 26% in 2022. The latest population-wide data on obesity rates, which would show whether the policies have had an …

View Full Text

Log in

Log in through your institution


* For online subscription