In November 2023, Colombia passed the “junk food law”, making it one of the first countries worldwide to tax ultra-processed foods. Public health experts around the world are lauding this landmark move, as it is a significant step towards addressing many health issues in the country, including oral diseases.
In this interview, FDI and its member the Federación Odontológica Colombiana (FOC) discuss the impact of this new law in the country.
Can you tell us about the new Colombian law on junk food and its importance for oral and general health?
The newly passed law in Colombia to implement a tax on ultra-processed foods is a very important step towards addressing the burden of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) within the country. The new law provides important inputs on policy and management actions in public health within the framework of the competences of the Ministry of Health and Social Protection.
We hope that the new tax will enable us to move towards a healthier society, instilling healthier food habits within the population and ensuring that the risk factors for general and oral health are proactively addressed. This tax follows several public health measures in the country such as Resolution 3803 of 2016, which puts an emphasis on government public actions to reduce sugar consumption. This resolution establishes sugar intake recommendations aimed at promoting a balanced diet for the maintenance of the nutritional and health status according to age group and gender. By implementing the recommendation in this resolution on both individual and group levels, the Colombian population can achieve access to a healthy diet, thereby preventing NCDs.
Another important resolution that the “junk food law” has succeeded concerns the front warning labeling system, which enables consumers to easily identify warnings of high content of salt/sodium, added sugars and saturated fat on the packaging of processed foods. It empowers individuals to therefore make informed decisions about their food choices.
The journey to get this law approved was a long one, starting back in 2016. However, this process holds great significance for the overall health of the Colombian population. Over the years, the government has developed several guidelines and strategies to promote healthy eating. We are confident that the implementation of these collective measures will lead to a reduction in the burden of NCDs, including oral diseases, within the country.
Can you give some examples of “junk food” popularly consumber in Colombia and included in the law?
Yes, examples of ultra-processed foods include sausages, ham, ketchup, canned foods, sweets, marmalades, alcoholic and sugary beverages, etc. In Colombia, quite a large number of junk foods are popular and are consumed on a regular basis by the population. The most popular ones include chips, plantains and manioc, fried goods, cookies, ice creams, chocolates, sweets, pastries, cereals, energy bars, marmalades, jams, malt drinks, sodas, chocolate drinks, ready to consume products, fast food like pizza, hamburgers, mazorcadas, hot dogs, breaded meat products and pastas, among others.
Did FOC participate in promoting the anti-junk food law? What can other national dental associations wishing to undertake similar advocacy efforts consider?
Certainly, the FOC actively engaged in promoting this law. We participated in public hearings within the Congress, both in the Senate and House of Representatives. Additionally, we extended our participation at the technical tables with the Health Ministry and Faculties of Dentistry, as well as in interdisciplinary workshops for regulation. We intend to continue to raise awareness of the detrimental effects of junk food consumption on oral health. We also look forward to working with various stakeholders to promote good oral health habits in addition to healthy eating habits within the country.
For national dental associations (NDAs) looking to undertake similar advocacy efforts, we would emphasize that it is essential to work simultaneously with government agencies, the Ministries of Health and Education, the Superintendence of Health, municipalities, governorships and with the different legislative branches such as the Senate and House of Representatives. By working together with the government, policymakers and other advocates, NDAs can make a real difference within their countries and regions.
Did you encounter any industry interference from companies advocating against this legislation?
Diverse industry stakeholders were also present in various public hearings where we participated. The main negative consequence of this legislation that the industry noted was that the increase in taxes can largely have an impact on families that do not have the necessary resources to access healthier food options.
What do you hope to achieve through this legislation and how will the impact be measured?
The aim is that, in the medium term, the reduction in the consumption of sugars and foods rich in sodium and fats will lead to a decrease of NCDs and an increase of physical activity among the Colombian population. At this stage, it will also be important for us to continue to emphasize the importance of oral healthcare, as a multidisciplinary action by several sectors, including food producing companies and society in general.
Editor’s note: this article was submitted by an external party and has been edited according to FDI’s editorial guidelines. The views expressed are those of the original author.