Return to News
April 18, 2017

Colombia’s Supreme Court rules consumers have right to know health harms of sugary drinks

New York, USA – Vital Strategies today welcomes a ruling from Colombia’s Supreme Court that orders the Superintendency of Industry and Commerce (SIC) to lift its censorship of a public service announcement (PSA), “Take It Seriously,” that warns consumers of the health harms of sugary drinks. The PSA was due to be screened on television channels from August 2016 as part of an eight-week advertising campaign, but was taken off air and banned before the campaign was due to end.

Take It Seriously” shows how easy it is to consume the equivalent of 47 teaspoons of sugar in one day from just four sugar-sweetened beverages, and the harm these sugary drinks cause to health. Vital Strategies had provided technical assistance to partners in Colombia for the development of the PSA and the campaign.

José Luis Castro, President and CEO, Vital Strategies, said: “The Supreme Court’s ruling is great news for health in Colombia – a victory for evidence-based, proven health policy over the commercial interests of the sugar-sweetened beverage industry. It’s a milestone in the protection of consumer rights, which we hope will reverberate across the wider region and around the world, wherever policy decisions on sugary drinks are under consideration.

“There is a global epidemic of overweight, obesity and related diseases, like diabetes and heart disease, which are contributing to unsustainable health and economic burdens in Colombia and many other countries. Sugary drinks represent empty calories which contribute toward weight gain and there is evidence that sugary drinks also are directly harmful to health. Reducing consumption of these beverages will help to improve health and save lives.

“Proven, cost-effective ways of reducing consumption include raising awareness of the scientifically-proven health harms of sugary drinks through campaigns like “Take It Seriously,” and raising prices and taxes to encourage consumers to switch to healthier alternatives, like water. Colombia’s Parliament voted against a tax on sugary drinks at the end of last year, so it’s even more important that Educar Consumidores and the Alliance for Food Health have this PSA as a tool in their arsenal. Knowledge is power and “Take It Seriously” empowers Colombians to make better informed, healthier decisions. We applaud the Supreme Court for supporting the rights of Colombians and health advocates.”

The background to this ruling

Several weeks into the planned broadcast of “Take It Seriously”, the SIC ordered it to be removed from broadcast schedules, in contravention of national and international regulations that protect freedom of expression when providing clear and truthful information to protect health. In addition, Educar Consumers was prohibited from publishing in traditional or digital media and social networks – without the prior authorization of the SIC – any information about the negative health consequences of consuming sugary drinks.

Journalists reported that this censorship was initiated after a complaint filed by Postobón – the largest beverage company in Colombia and one of the largest across South America.

On April 5th, 2017, Colombia’s Supreme Court of Justice ruled in favor of a trusteeship filed by Dejusticia and other organizations from the Alliance for Food Health. The ruling recognizes the right of consumers to “access information on the positive or negative consequences [of] consuming a particular product” and affirms that consumers “are not passive users but deliberating citizens, who… have the right to demand, receive and impart information and ideas about the risks to their health”. Critically, the ruling says: “the State violates its obligations when there is deliberate concealment or misrepresentation of information that is of fundamental importance for the protection of health.” The ruling also orders the SIC to involve consumers in assessing the veracity of the PSA.

Partners in the legal action included members of the Alliance for Food Health, such as the Colombian Obesity Foundation, High Cost Patients, International Network of Pro Food Groups-IBFAN, Red PaPaz, the Consumer Center for Security Food and Nutrition, FIAN Colombia, Anaas Foundation, Semilla Andina Foundation, and the National Impulse Committee for Family Agriculture in Colombia; La Liga Contra el Cáncer (the Colombian League Against Cancer); and other representatives from civil society.

The PSA at the center of the legal action can be viewed at “Take It Seriously.” Stills and transcripts of the PSA are available upon request.

About Vital Strategies

Vital Strategies is a global health organization that seeks to accelerate progress on the world’s most pressing health problems. Our team combines evidence-based strategies with innovation to help develop and implement sound public health policies, manage programs efficiently, strengthen data systems, conduct research, and design strategic communication campaigns for policy and behavior change. To find out more, please visit www.vitalstrategies.org or Twitter @VitalStrat.

For further information or to arrange an interview with a Vital Strategies public health and anti-obesity expert, please contact Tracey Johnston, Vital Strategies, at +44.7889.081.170 or tjohnston@vitalstrategies.org

Back to top