The industry uses nutrition and health claims, premium offers, and promotional characters as marketing strategies (MS). The inclusion of these MS on ultra-processed products may influence child and adolescent purchase behavior. This study determined the proportion of foods carrying claims and marketing strategies, also the proportion of products with critical nutrients declaration, and nutritional profile differences between products that carry or not claims and MS on the front-of-package (FoP) of ultra-processed food products sold in Costa Rica. Data were obtained from 2423 photographs of seven food groups consumed as snacks that were sold in one of the most widespread and popular hypermarket chains in Costa Rica in 2015. Ten percent of products lacked a nutrition facts panel. Sodium was the least reported critical nutrient. Energy and critical nutrients were significantly highest in products that did not include any nutrition or health claim and in products that included at least one MS. Forty-four percent and 10% of all products displayed at least one nutrition or at least one health claim, respectively, and 23% displayed at least one MS. In conclusion, regulations are needed to restrict claims and marketing on ultra-processed food packages to generate healthier food environments and contribute to the prevention of childhood and adolescent obesity in Costa Rica.
Keywords: Costa Rica; children; food environment; food labeling; health claims; obesity; ultra-processed foods.