An 'outstanding contribution' to health: Peru wins United Nations award for nutrition label

By Niamh Michail contact

- Last updated on GMT

Health minister Elizabeth Zulema Tomás accepted the award. © Ministerio de Salud (MINSA Peru)
Health minister Elizabeth Zulema Tomás accepted the award. © Ministerio de Salud (MINSA Peru)

Related tags: Nutrition labelling, Public health, Obesity, reformulation

The United Nations has awarded Peru’s Ministry of Health for its “outstanding contribution” to preventing non-communicable diseases through its mandatory nutrition warning label.

The United Nations’ Interagency Task Force on the prevention and control of non-communicable Diseases (UNIATF) announced the public health winners in New York this week (23 September) at a side event held during the United Nations’ General Assembly.

UNIATF holds the awards each year in order to recognize government ministries and non-state actors, such as NGOs or academia, that make an outstanding contribution to preventing and controlling NCDs and working towards the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

Peru’s warning nutrition label, based on the Chilean one, came into force this summer​. ​The black and white octagonal 'stop signs' warn consumers if products are high in salt, sugar and saturated fat, or contain trans fat.

The country's health minister Elizabeth Zulema Tomás accepted the award in the category Outstanding Ministries of Health. She said: "This award recognizes the committed and joint efforts to reduce, prevent, and control non-communicable diseases. This is one of the goals jointly set by the several countries taking part in this event towards 2030."

Seven other government ministries were also awarded for their work, including the Brazilian Ministry of Health for its Vida no Trânsito program, aimed at reducing traffic-related deaths, and a tobacco program. The Mexican non-profit organization, Mexico Salud-Hable Coalition, also picked up a prize in the category non-state actors.

Dr Alexey Kulikov, external relations officer at UNIATF took to social media to congratulate the Peruvian government. 

Although it is still early to evaluate the label’s impact in Peru, a report published by the Chilean government this summer​ suggests the Chilean nutrition label, in force since June 2016, is helping the country eat more healthily.

It surveyed 5,000 products and identified a 17.7% reformulation rate among those products while other studies have found a 25% reduction in the purchase of sugary drinks.

'Mexican policymakers must listen'

The United Nations award has further galvanized Mexican health campaigners who want to see similar warning nutrition labels in place in Mexico. In July this year,  the Health Commission of Mexico's Chamber of Deputies approved a draft opinion to bring in front-of-pack warning nutrition labels

The full Chamber of Deputies is now due to discuss this draft regulation at a plenary session before it goes to the senate.

Following the United Nations award, Ana Larrañaga, coordinator at non-profit ContraPeso, a member organization of the Alliance for Food-related Health (Alianza por la Salud Alimentaria), said: “[…] it is important for legislators of all parliamentary groups to listen to the recommendations issued by international experts and cast a vote in favor of the health of Mexicans and not of the interests of the industries that oppose this progress​.”

Mexico has the opportunity and is one step away from implementing clear and recognized labeling like that of Chile and Peru,” ​added Larrañaga.

The Mexican food industry is in favor of nutrition labels based on Guideline Daily Amounts (GDA).

Paulina Magaña, a food health researcher at Mexican consumer rights organization El Poder del Consumer, which is also a member of the Alliance for Food Health, said: “[Warning nutrition labels mean] consumers can access simple and understandable information that allows them to know when a product has high or excessive concentrations of one of the critical nutrients linked to the obesity and diabetes epidemic."

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