by Ana Basto-Abreu, Rossana Torres-Alvarez, Francisco Reyes-Sánchez, Romina González-Morales, Francisco Canto-Osorio, M. Arantxa Colchero, Simón Barquera, Juan A. Rivera, Tonatiuh Barrientos-Gutierrez
In October 2019, Mexico approved a law to establish that nonalcoholic beverages and packaged foods that exceed a threshold for added calories, sugars, fats, trans fat, or sodium should have an “excess of” warning label. We aimed to estimate the expected reduction in the obesity prevalence and obesity costs in Mexico by introducing warning labels, over 5 years, among adults under 60 years of age.
Methods and findings
Baseline intakes of beverages and snacks were obtained from the 2016 Mexican National Health and Nutrition Survey. The expected impact of labels on caloric intake was obtained from an experimental study, with a 10.5% caloric reduction for beverages and 3.0% caloric reduction for snacks. The caloric reduction was introduced into a dynamic model to estimate weight change. The model output was then used to estimate the expected changes in the prevalence of obesity and overweight. To predict obesity costs, we used the Health Ministry report of the impact of overweight and obesity in Mexico 1999–2023. We estimated a mean caloric reduction of 36.8 kcal/day/person (23.2 kcal/day from beverages and 13.6 kcal/day from snacks). Five years after implementation, this caloric reduction could reduce 1.68 kg and 4.98 percentage points (pp) in obesity (14.7%, with respect to baseline), which translates into a reduction of 1.3 million cases of obesity and a reduction of US$1.8 billion in direct and indirect costs. Our estimate is based on experimental evidence derived from warning labels as proposed in Canada, which include a single label and less restrictive limits to sugar, sodium, and saturated fats. Our estimates depend on various assumptions, such as the transportability of effect estimates from the experimental study to the Mexican population and that other factors that could influence weight and food and beverage consumption remain unchanged. Our results will need to be corroborated by future observational studies through the analysis of changes in sales, consumption, and body weight.
In this study, we estimated that warning labels may effectively reduce obesity and obesity-related costs. Mexico is following Chile, Peru, and Uruguay in implementing warning labels to processed foods, but other countries could benefit from this intervention.