Costa Rica Faces Challenge of Continuing Reduction of Sodium in Prepackaged Foods

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    The consumption of sodium and trans fatty acids (TFA), present in pre-packaged foods that are distributed in Costa Rica, is associated with suffering from non-communicable diseases, such as overweight, obesity, as well as cardiovascular and respiratory conditions.

    Costa Rica had a tendency to decrease products with these contents. However, between 2018 and 2022, it stagnated. This was determined by a study in which the Healthy Costa Rica Association and the Costa Rican Institute for Research and Teaching in Nutrition and Health (INCIENSA) participated.

    According to Dr. Adriana Blanco, INCIENSA researcher, in the last 4 years no progress has been observed in this area. Furthermore, compliance with the national goals went from 80% in 2015 to 87% in 2018 and 84.5% in 2022, despite the fact that these goals have been out of date for 2 years.

    To carry out this study, the Front Labeling Information Program (FLIP) application, developed by the University of Toronto in Canada, was used. With the help of this technology, the project was developed simultaneously in Argentina, Peru and Panama. In the case of Costa Rica, 2 supermarkets in the Greater Metropolitan Area (GAM) were selected and information was obtained on 7,402 prepackaged products offered in these stores.

    Most prepackaged foods have excessive sodium content

    Regarding the sodium reduction goals established by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the World Health Organization (WHO), most of the categories of prepackaged foods (87.5%) have excessive sodium content. sodium, which exceeds the product limit according to the organizations nutrient profile model.

    Likewise, of the 7,402 prepackaged products analyzed, almost 41% of them declare AGT in their nutritional information; of them, 97.7% reported 0 grams and 2.3% more than 0 grams of this type of acid. “Of the products that claim zero or more grams of trans fatty acids, seven out of 10 fail to meet the criteria of two or fewer grams of TFA per 100 grams of total fat. Likewise, 81.5% (n=53) have an excessive amount of trans fats, according to criteria established by the PAHO nutrient profile model (≥1% of total energy from trans fats)”, explained Dr. Hilda Núñez, INCIENSA researcher.

    Through the study, it was evidenced that a small part of the prepackaged foods reports hydrogenated (HO) and partially hydrogenated (PHO) fatty acids in the list of ingredients, thus failing to comply with the PAHO policy approach.

    Association presents alternatives to regulate sodium intake

    The lawyer for Healthy Costa Rica, Roxana Salazar, commented on the alternatives proposed by the association to regulate the content of sound and trans fatty acids offered in the country:

    • Reforming the Central American Technical Regulations for Nutritional Labeling of Prepackaged Food Products for Human Consumption, and thus making the inclusion of AGT mandatory in the nutritional labeling declaration for all foods that contain it, is one of the proposals.

    • Another option is to achieve an international ban on partially hydrogenated oils. This idea has advantages such as: low implementation cost, massive international impact, as well as the fact that it could lead to the creation of a Central American food registry.

    Salazar also mentioned the promotion of the elimination policy for AGT-PI recommended by PAHO and WHO, which is to limit its content to no more than 2% of total fat in all foods. Frontal labeling as an instrument to provide information to consumers about the TFA content of food is another solution.


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