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"The healthiest option should be the easiest option”: Promoting healthier diets in Montevideo – World Health Organization

Since 2017, the municipal health department has been working with the Partnership for Healthy Cities on ways to improve the availability of healthy food for citizens. Most notably this included restrictions on salt consumption. In 2018 the city issued a new decree requiring restaurants in Montevideo to have at least 10 percent of their menu contain food items with no added salt.

A healthy diet helps to protect against malnutrition in all forms, as well as noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), including diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer.1 Yet in many countries, a lack of access to healthy food options, changing lifestyles, rapid urbanization and increased production of processed foods can create environments where it’s hard to have a healthy diet. Many people now consume more foods high in energy, fats, free sugars and salt/sodium, which can increase their risk of health problems, and do not eat enough fruit, vegetables and other dietary fibre such as whole grains.
In Uruguay, NCDs accounted for 85% of deaths in 2016.2 The city of Montevideo has a long history of pursuing healthy food policies, reflecting a national commitment to promoting healthier diets. The country has several policies in place to promote healthier diets, including a national target for sodium intake, but progress has been mixed. In recent years there has also been a noticeable increase in the consumption of ultra-processed foods with high levels of calories, fats, sugar and salt.
To support implementation of the new standards and encourage compliance, the city included incentives for the institutions involved. These include a form of tax relief: institutions that comply with the standards will not be required to pay the ‘tasa bromatológica’ that has been required by the city since 2007. 4 Workplace vendors can also win “Healthy Canteen” status if they take certain steps to make healthier options available to diners – a status which indicates their commitment to protecting people’s health whilst ensuring they are well fed. To achieve the designation of a healthy canteen, the institution must meet a list of requirements such as a menu based primarily on natural or minimally processed foods, no advertising of unhealthy foods, and the provision of water dispensers that are clearly visible and accessible for workers. 5
An accompanying communication campaign has been launched to emphasize the importance of healthy eating in the workplace, and raise public awareness of the new decree and availability of healthier food options.

The workplaces covered by these standards directly employ more than 8,000 people and serve many thousands more. It is hoped that the new standards will advance the city’s intention of making “the healthiest option the easiest option” for its nearly 1.7 million residents.6
For more information on Montevideo’s work to promote healthy canteens, please visit: https://montevideo.gub.uy/areas-tematicas/salud/cantinas-saludables
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1 https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/healthy-diet
2 https://www.who.int/data/gho/data/indicators/indicator-details/GHO/prevalence-of-overweight-among-adults-bmi-=-25-(age-standardized-estimate)-(-)
3 https://www.gub.uy/junta-departamental-montevideo/institucional/normativa/decreto-departamental-n-38072-fecha-30062022
5 Intendencia incentivará cantinas saludables en dependencias públicas | Intendencia de Montevideo.
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