Obesity rates continue to climb globally and Guatemalans, especially children, are included in this trend. As in the United States, in this low/middle income country, fast food chain restaurants market directly to children with price incentives and toy giveaways as part of combination meals, enticing children to choose unhealthy food options instead of a possibly healthier choice. Researchers from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the Cardiovascular Surgery Unit of Guatemala collaborated to examine kids’ meal choices at fast food chains. The study findings, published in BMC Obesity, suggested that health claims and nutritional information are inaccurate, and entice children with giveaways and price incentives, which possible contribute to rising obesity rates.
27% of children in Guatemala are overweight with another 7% considered obese. Fast food restaurant chains are readily available in urban areas and market specifically to children. Joaquin Barnoya, MD, MPH, associate professor of surgery, wanted to find out just how fast food chain restaurants marketed to children and if they reported nutritional information with their combination meals.
“Unfortunately, as of 2017, Guatemala has not implemented any policies to restrict marketing of less healthy foods to children,” said Barnoya. “While Guatemala struggles with an increase in obesity prevalence, it is fundamental that healthcare advocates and legislators take into account the available evidence to pass legislation to restrict advertising of nutrient-poor, energy-dense foods to children.”
In his findings, Barnoya noted that combo meals were less expensive, included a toy with the meal, and offered soda as the first drink option. Additionally, nutritional information was hard to find, and most combo meals were high in sodium, calories from fat and saturated fat. These marketing strategies are widespread and promote less healthy meal options for children. Barnoya and his colleague urge public health officials to regulate and enforce healthier marketing strategies to children. Future regulations could reduce the number of overweight children, thus reducing the burden of chronic diseases and some cancers.
“Child-oriented packaging is designed to attract children’s attention, which has been found to significantly influence children’s snack preferences,” Barnoya said. “These are mostly used for high sugar, fat and sodium foods and contribute, in part, to increase food preference, purchase and consumption of these foods, and consequently an increased risk of obesity.”