Obesity and related pathologies like high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart attacks cost the Chilean treasury an estimated 300 million US dollars which is equivalent to a significant percentage of the country's overall public health budget.
According to official statistics 25% of the adult Chilean population is obese and 37.8% overweight which means that by 2010, 4.3 million Chileans will be obese and 4.5 million overweight. Faced with the challenge since 2004, Chile is implementing a prevention campaign to illustrate food quality and nutritional factors to pregnant women and children less than 6 years who receive medical care at private and government clinics. The impact of official data is more impressive among children: 7% of those less than 6 years are obese but by the time they reach first grade the figure is 18% and again jumps to 25% among adolescents. A campaign launched in 2002 had the target of cutting obesity from 16 to 12% by 2010 but recent data show that it's a "dream" because the percentage has risen to 22. This cost the Chilean Treasury almost 300 million US dollars annually in pathologies associated and could otherwise be invested in five new children's hospital or 200 clinics. Chile is now launching was it describes as a Global Strategy Against Obesity, EGO, which promotes a healthy life, physical exercise and the publishing of nutritional factors in food products' labeling. However it's not easy going: last year the Chilean Congress rejected a proposal to double to four hours the weekly compulsory physical exercise in government schools. The project was considered too expensive. But Chilean NGOs are campaigning for further advances taking examples from other countries: not necessarily as drastic as in Israel where a controversial initiative is under consideration in the Knesset making obese people pay an additional tax. Possibly like France where food products must warn about nutritional factors and those companies who don't must pay special fines. Possibly like Britain where allegedly stomach surgery for obese people will receive special attention or in the US that has similar benefits under the Medicare system. Other ideas are to promote restaurants that serve healthy food; increase the number of sports areas for the public; invite residents to avoid lifts and climb stairs; subventions for obesity pharmaceuticals. Or simply ban soda pops in schools and ban the use of hydrogenated cooking oils like recently approved by the New York City Schools Board.