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May 9, 2018

Six Latin American Cities Serve up Healthy Food Strategies

Participants in the Partnership for Healthy Cities workshop included Dr. Analice Berón (center), Director of Health for the Montevideo mayor’s office, and Cali Sub-Secretary of Health Alexander Villegas (left).

The nutrition landscape in the Americas is changing fast and fuelling a health crisis. Around 57% (302 million) of the adult population in Latin America are overweight and 19% (100.8 million) are obese. Meanwhile, increased consumption of foods high in salt is leading to rising rates of hypertension, a risk factor for heart disease and stroke, and the leading risk factor for death globally.

Combatting this rise in noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) and obesity in Latin America was the focus of a food policy workshop hosted by Vital Strategies in Bogotá, Colombia, last month that featured six cities in the region working with the Partnership for Healthy Cities. The emphasis was on how the cities can support healthy food “environments” and reduce risk factors for NCDs and obesity.

The cities—Bogotá, Cali, Medellín, Lima, Montevideo and Quito—are developing policies to limit the availability and advertising of sugary drinks and processed or high-sodium foods in public environments, while making healthy options easier and cheaper.

Some cities are focusing on schools and others on hospitals or restaurants.

Representatives of six Partnership for Healthy Cities attended the food policy workshop.

Participants at the April 19-21 Partnership meeting traded ideas for tackling poor diet in the Latin American region and advancing such policy changes, such as through communications campaigns and by improving the food for sale in certain venues. They also shared experiences combating industry opposition.

Joining the six cities and Vital Strategies technical staff was Chilean Senator Guido Girardi, President of his country’s Health Commission, who discussed his work helping pass a law on front-of-package labeling in his country. Carolina Piñeros, Executive Director of the Colombian advocacy group Red Papaz, also joined; she is part of a local coalition seeking a similar labeling law in her country. While not available to cities as an option, labeling changes are just the sort of national policy that, in tandem with city action, create comprehensive approaches to NCD and obesity prevention.

Chilean Senator Guido Girardi, President of his country’s Health Commission, discussed his experiences helping pass a law on front-of-package labeling in his country.

The Partnership for Healthy Cities is led by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in his role as World Health Organization Ambassador for Noncommunicable Diseases (NCDs). The Partnership was borne out of the conviction that cities are the engines of change: Cities are uniquely positioned to transform the fight against injuries and NCDs diseases by implementing proven policies that significantly reduce exposure to risk factors.

The Partnership’s 54 cities are supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies, in partnership with the World Health Organization and Vital Strategies.

Vital Strategies’ Mariana Espinosa Estrada, the Partnership’s Latin America program officer, ran the three-day meeting.
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