HPB on the Hello Kitty and Minions craze

While many nations have already taken pro active measures to ban toy giveaways with children's meals at fast-food restaurants, Singapore is yet to do so.

With the recent Hello Kitty and Minions fiasco by McDonald's, it is evident that despite tougher advertising rules, brands can still find a way to lure kids.

Late last year, following in the footsteps of countries which banned unhealthy food advertising to children, local authorities said they were mulling a similar move.

According to Health Promotion Board (HPB), evidence has shown that advertising influences children's food preferences, purchase requests or consumption patterns. The Ministry of Health and the HPB hence partnered up to review the need to strengthen standards for advertising of food and beverage products high in fat, sugar or salt to children.

When Marketing asked HPB if it will consider banning toy giveaways as part of the new legislation, Dr. K Vijaya, director, youth health division, Health Promotion Board said there are no discussions to ban the sale of toys with fast foods at present.

She added that the Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (an Advisory Council to the Consumer Association of Singapore) is co-ordinating an industry-led effort to strengthen the standards for advertising to children, for food and drink products high in fat, sugar or salt together with  MOH, HPB and representatives from relevant industry stakeholder groups.

The Committee on Guidelines for Food Advertising for Children will convene soon to look into these standards.

"We would like parents to remember to exercise discretion when it comes to feeding their children, even if they are anxious to acquire the toys that go with fast food," she said.

In general, fast food tends to be high in energy and contains large amounts of saturated fat and salt. It is also generally low in fibre, vitamins and minerals. Hence fast food should only be eaten occasionally and in small portion, the HPB statement said.

In the United States, the ban especially targets Happy Meal-style toy giveaways, because the inclusion of this incentive is considered as marketing to children as it might pressure parents to buy these meals for their kids.

Chile too has pressed on with similar laws and considering extending it to makers of cereal, popsicles and other products that attract children with toys, crayons or stickers.

While Singapore's fast food industry has not yet felt the implications of such a rule, one can't rule out the possibility of the wave hitting local shores soon enough.

Last year, in a statement, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said unhealthy lifestyles cause serious health problems in many developed countries, referring to countries such as the US and UK, where obesity has become an epidemic.

He added that while more Singaporeans are exercising and fewer smoking, obesity rates are still going up with more fast foods and sedentary occupations.