MOH seeks public's view on sweetened drinks advertising and nutrition labelling

The Ministry of Health (MOH) and the Health Promotion Board (HPB) have called for a public consultation from the general public and key stakeholders to provide feedback on the possible measures to reduce Singaporeans’ sugar intake from pre-packaged sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs).

These measures include front-of-pack nutrition labelling, advertising regulations, reducing availability of sugary foods and drinks in schools and public institutions, as well as excise duties on SSBs.

MOH said that the introduction of the mandatory front-of-pack nutrition label on pre-packaged SSBs will allow consumers to identify the range of "less healthy" SSBs, and also complements the existing Healthier Choice Symbol programme. In addition,
MOH proposes the measure to regulate advertisements of less healthy SSBs in the mass media, including on online channels, to reduce the influence on consumer preferences.

These include the option of either making the current restrictions mandatory and expanding it to include more TV time-belts and media channels that children are exposed to or to ban advertising across all time-belts and mass media channels.

According to the World Health Organisation, there is “unequivocal" evidence that the marketing of unhealthy foods and SSBs promotes childhood obesity. Meanwhile, MOH highlighted that studies have shown that restricting advertisements can reduce consumption of the product of concern and that many jurisdictions have enacted laws restricting advertisements of less healthy food and drinks.

Furthermore, MOH proposes the introduction of an excise duty on manufacturers and importers of pre-packaged SSBs, to encourage the industry to reformulate and reduce the sugar content in its products. It aims to shape the behaviour of manufacturers and consumers through this measure. The MOH also proposes a nationwide ban on sale of higher-sugar pre-packaged SSBs, on top of the existing ban of sale in schools and on government premises. MOH explained these proposed measures are in place in a bid to accelerate industry reformulation to reduce sugar levels in pre-packaged SSBs, as well as to encourage Singaporeans to make "informed and healthier" choices.

This comes following the declaration of War on Diabetes in 2016 by MOH, as it looked to mobilise a whole-of-society effort to tackle the disease. As such, a multipronged strategy has been implemented under the War on Diabetes such as prevention through healthy living, regular screening and follow-up for early detection and intervention. In addition, there were public education, community outreach and industry partnership. MOH also said that globally and regionally, a growing number of countries have adopted a combination of measures to reduce sugar intake from SSBs and maximise its public health impact.

Currently, Singapore has the highest prevalence of diabetes among developed nations, and the number of Singapore residents with diabetes is projected to reach one million by 2050, if the trend is not curbed.