Deadly badges of honor

"There's free food in the kitchen" is the second greatest work email you can receive. The greatest is "I brought some food back from my trip to [another country]."

After my friend at work visited his home in Chile, he returned with a treasure trove of Nestle Super 8 bars and Suny candies, which taste like warm cookie dough.

They're not just delicious; they're two black stickers worth of delicious.

In Chile, 67% of the adult population is overweight, according to Ministerio de Salud (the Chilean Ministry of Health). To combat obesity, the government in 2016 passed a law requiring food makers to slap hexagonal black stickers on certain unhealthy foods.

The stickers are meant to serve as a deadly stop sign. The irony, according to my friend, is that black stickers have come to signal deliciousness among Chilean consumers. A 3-sticker dessert is more desirable than one with 1 or 2 stickers.

How many packaged food consumers don't realize chips or candy is unhealthy? Of those consumers, how many would change their behavior based on the mere knowledge?

I suspect the education problem exists to a lesser extent than the government expected. The greater issues may be willpower and affordance: how sweets are positioned to Chileans.

A UX designer friend gave me some advice that I'll never forget:

Obsess over every aspect of the problem before you start thinking of solutions.

At first glance, Chile's black label solution makes perfect sense. I think the idea is backfiring — becoming a badge of honor — because it tackles obesity from the perspective of institutions, not consumers. When I leave my desk because "there's food in the kitchen," I know I'm living dangerously.

Cody Romano

Cody Romano

Software engineer @Airbnb. Formerly @Amazon. This is my personal site for side projects and ramblings.

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