Monday 29 October 2012

Ban on ads that drive kids to unhealthy food

New move to kick in next year as part of ongoing efforts to combat rising obesity
By Salma Khalik, The Straits Times, 28 Oct 2012

Advertisements that make unhealthy food and drinks appealing to children will be banned from early next year as part of Singapore's battle against obesity.

Topping the list of ads likely to be affected are those for sweet drinks and fast food high in oil and salt.

Announcing this yesterday, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said the action is not targeted at specific brands, but at unhealthy food.

The move is an important initiative, he added, because eating habits are formed at a relatively young age. Singapore is also seeing a steady rise in obesity rates.

Health Promotion Board (HPB) chief executive Ang Hak Seng said obesity rates have risen by 1 per cent a year over the past three years, and today, about 11 per cent of adults and 9 per cent of children are obese.

But what is scary, he added, is that half the obese children will grow up to be adults with diabetes, which increases a person's risk of serious illness, including blindness, stroke and heart attack.

The experience in the West indicates that there will be a tipping point - when obesity affects 17 per cent to 18 per cent of the population - beyond which the rate rises even faster.

"This is because obesity becomes a norm. It becomes acceptable to society," he said. "That's why we must act now to prevent it from becoming a real obesity and diabetes epidemic."

Mr Gan and Mr Ang spoke to reporters after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong joined 10,000 people at the launch of the 20th National Healthy Lifestyle Campaign at the Gardens by the Bay.

Mr Lee said in a statement that unhealthy lifestyles, diets and social environments were the cause of serious health problems in many developed countries.

Although more people here exercise and fewer smoke, obesity rates were rising because of a combination of more fast food and sedentary occupations.

"Hence, we must redouble our efforts and see what more we can do to regulate advertising and promote healthy food choices," he said.

Mr Gan said the restrictions on ads targeting children will start with television programmes and children's magazines.

Asked if ads for unhealthy food at bus stops near schools would also be affected, he said the ban could be expanded to other forms of advertising later.

There will be four weeks of public consultation via the Health Promotion Board website before the ban is implemented.

On a positive note, he said the Health Promotion Board's discussions with media companies and food manufacturers have shown that "all of us are on the same page".

Labels in supermarkets to guide the Healthy Shopper
By Salma Khalik, The Straits Times, 28 Oct 2012

Four supermarket chains will soon identify the healthier foods they sell with the Healthy Shopper logo to encourage consumers to buy more of them.

They will also provide nutritional information on these items in four categories: fruit and vegetables; lean meats and alternatives like poultry, fish and seafood; whole grains; and healthier oils and sauces.

The Health Promotion Board initiated the programme because people "are not meeting the dietary recommendations for certain foods such as fruit, vegetables and whole grains, while they are exceeding recommendations for certain nutrients such as energy, fat, saturated fat and salt".

The participating chains are Cold Storage, Giant, NTUC FairPrice and Sheng Siong. They will include these good foods as part of their weekly promotions.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who launched the 20th National Healthy Lifestyle Campaign at Gardens by the Bay yesterday, was shown two other programmes to help Singaporeans stay fit.

One is the Healthy Lifestyle Index, which aims to give people access to their own virtual healthy lifestyle personal coach. A series of 10 online questions gives them an idea of how healthy they are compared to the norm here.

This is followed up by an e-mail with personalised encouragement such as: "You're making an effort to include fruit and vegetables in your diet, try eating two portions of it. This is less than the eight servings recommended by the American Heart Association."

The other new item is the healthyMEtv, a digital channel with short video clips and health tips "to strengthen health literacy in Singapore", said the HPB.

Praising the HPB's efforts over the past two decades, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said they show "our Government's seriousness in creating a healthy nation".

According to the HPB's report book, people here are generally doing well.

More people are exercising, with 60 per cent doing the recommended 150 minutes of physical activity a week. This is a far rosier picture than that painted by the National Health Survey 2010, which found that only 19 per cent of adults aged 18 to 69 exercised regularly.

The HPB also says the 11 per cent obesity rate here is lower than the 34 per cent in the United States and the 25 per cent in Australia.

The proportion of people who smoke daily has gone down from 18 per cent in 1992 to 14 per cent by 2010, while four in five people check their blood pressure and cholesterol levels regularly.

The consumption of food with the Healthier Choice symbol has gone up from 29 per cent in 2002 to 49 per cent by 2009. Foods with this symbol might not always be good for health, such as soya sauce, but are healthier than other similar products.

14 F&B firms pledge to curb ads aimed at kids
Move to take effect on Jan 1 comes amid obesity fight
By Poon Chian Hui, The Straits Times, 30 Oct 2012

FOURTEEN major food and beverage firms will cut back on advertising to children from Jan 1 to support efforts to tackle obesity in Singapore.

Food Industry Asia announced the initiative yesterday. The industry association said the companies pledging to curb advertising unhealthy foods to those under 12 include Coca-Cola, Nestle, Ferrero and McDonald's.

Research has shown that advertising influences what children buy or choose to eat.

The pledge covers products high in saturated fats, trans fat, sugar or salt. Under this voluntary framework, firms are not to advertise on television, in print and on websites where 35 per cent or more of the audience are under 12.

Only certain products that meet scientifically proven nutritional criteria or adhere to national or international dietary guidelines are allowed.

The move to self-regulate comes on the heels of the Government's announcement last Saturday to ban ads that make unhealthy food appealing to children from early next year.

Companies will also avoid publicising products in primary schools, unless a request is made for educational purposes, such as to promote a healthier lifestyle.

About 9 per cent of children here are obese, putting them at higher risk of chronic ailments like diabetes as they grow older.

Health Promotion Board (HPB) chief executive Ang Hak Seng said the companies' pledge is "an important first step", given the impact of advertising.

A British study published last year found that children aged six to 13 were more likely to want to eat fatty and sugary foods after watching commercials for unhealthy food on TV.

Sweden has banned ads aimed at children aged 12 and younger while Britain and South Korea have regulations restricting food advertising.

To draw up similar guidelines here, the HPB will be holding an online public consultation next month. Until then, it is unclear what sort of ads will be deemed acceptable.

Currently, some fast-food chains carry ads with a family theme. In a scene in a local commercial, for example, a mother is shown giving a fried chicken drumstick to her son.

But industry players also note that there has been a trend in recent years towards healthier food options.

Mr Jimmy Soh, deputy president of the Singapore Food Manufacturers' Association, said there are more products with less sugar and salt.

Many items made by beverage firm F&N carry the HPB's healthier choice symbol, said Ms Jennifer See, its general manager for corporate marketing.

Ms Yvonne Low, senior director, McDonald's marketing and communications, said it has made its children-oriented Happy Meals more wholesome with the introduction of items such as apple slices and low-fat milk.

She said the company will stop advertising in media channels where children make up more than 35 per cent of the audience from Jan 1.

But Nanyang Technological University's Associate Professor Lee Chun Wah, who specialises in public communications, has doubts about whether the changes will have a lasting impact on children's eating habits.

"Children are increasingly exposed to advertisements on social media such as Facebook and YouTube - all these bypass parental overview," he said. "The kids are basically on their own here."

How other countries fight the flab
By Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 30 Oct 2012


Last month, the New York City Board of Health approved a ban on the sale of large soft drinks and other sugary drinks at restaurants, street carts and cinemas.

The move is the first restriction of its kind in America. It is due to take effect next March, but soft drink makers and other businesses are suing to block the ban.

First Lady Michelle Obama launched the Let's Move! campaign two years ago to fight growing childhood obesity. Nearly one in three American children today is overweight or obese.

It has led to initiatives like fund-raising for school meals, bringing chefs and salad bars to schools to improve nutrition, and a White House task force which aims to reduce childhood obesity to 5 per cent by 2030.

In June, media giant Disney announced a ban on junk-food advertisements aimed at children on its television networks.


The government launched a £75 million (S$147 million) national healthy lifestyle campaign called Change4Life three years ago.

Besides large-scale advertising, it also had initiatives like giving vouchers for healthier food and activities to families, and having supermarket chains Tesco and Asda cut prices on healthier food products.


In 2007, it banned fast-food ads in children's television shows.


It introduced a tax on foods containing more than 2.3 per cent of saturated fats last year. This means that consumers pay up to 30 per cent more for a pack of butter and 8 per cent more for a bag of chips.

Other countries which have introduced "fat taxes" include Hungary, Finland and France.


Not-for-profit group Kitchen Garden Foundation gets children aged eight to 11 to grow seasonal food in school, prepare it in kitchens and share the final product with their classmates.

The programme runs in 265 schools and influences about 30,000 children. The Australian government has invested A$20 million (S$25 million) in the project.

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