Pretty much every country in the world now has an obesity crisis. But no one's really figured out what to do about it.
One of the most avant-garde obesity policy experiments is happening in Chile, where health officials are trying to revolutionize nutrition labeling. Instead of cramming percentages and numbers onto the back of food packages, the Chilean government now requires symbol-based warning labels on the front of food products that contain high levels of salt, sugar, calories, and saturated fat.
Canada, where 26 percent of adults have obesity, has taken notice. It's now on the cusp of becoming the first high-income country to adopt a similar warning system. Meanwhile, Mexico, which has called overweight, obesity, and diabetes public health emergencies, is also considering following Chile's lead.
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But these new approaches in Mexico and Canada may never see the light of day if the American trade representatives get their way.
Welcome to the opaque — and somewhat surprising — intersection of obesity and the North American Free Trade Agreement renegotiation.
According to a leaked document shared with Vox, US trade representatives are seeking to override national food labeling policies in Mexico, Canada — as well as in the US — through the NAFTA renegotiation.
Specifically, the US is proposing a provision about packaged food and non-alcoholic beverages that suggests that countries involved in the trade deal should not adopt front-of-package symbol warnings that "inappropriately denotes that a hazard exists from consumption of the food or non-alcoholic beverages." The New York Times first reported on the provision Tuesday
On Wednesday, in a House Ways and Means Committee meeting about America's trade agenda, the United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, confirmed that he is indeed pursuing this provision, arguing that national food labeling policies are "protectionist."
But public health researchers and concerned lawmakers like Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Tex) see the provision another way: as a threat to the battle against obesity.