No more fast food marketing for children?

Following in the footsteps of countries such as Norway and Sweden which have banned unhealthy food advertising to children, local authorities are mulling a similar move, beginning a public consultation exercise next month.

According to a release from the 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 is hence reviewing the need to strengthen standards for advertising of food and beverage products high in fat, sugar or salt to children. An online public consultation exercise to put these measures in place will begin in November this year, aimed at gathering public feedback for the development of the these new guidelines.

When asked if this would affect fast food brands and their advertising activities, director of corporate marketing and communications Vernon Vasu told Marketing that nothing had yet been confirmed as of now in terms of regulations, but that the new restrictions would not target any specific brand.

"The intention is to target marketing on foods high in salt and fat during children's programmes," he said, adding that he was unable to comment further on developments.

This follows a global movement by the World Health Organisation for implementing the set of recommendations on the marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages to children.

Markets such as Quebec, Norway and Sweden have already effected a ban, while the United Kingdom and South Korea have statutory regulations restricting food advertising. Finland and Denmark have also introduced guidelines in this area.

In Malaysia, fast-food advertisements were banned from children's TV programmes and fast-food advertisers were not allowed to sponsor children's TV programmes in 2008 and last year, it renewed these guidelines to extend to all areas of marketing including event and online executions.

One brand that has already tweaked its marketing activities in anticipation of this movement is KFC. In an earlier interview with Marketing, marketing director Virginia Ng said it had pulled all its promotions to children off the menu.

"What we have done is stopped marketing to kids in anticipation of the global movement of marketing to children being unethical. We used to have toys and the kid's club and since the beginning of this year we stopped our kid's meals in Singapore. We offer meals for families, but the toys and the rest of it, no."

A major push for healthier lifestyles for locals has also been launched alongside these efforts by the HPB.

Firstly, a "Healthy Lifestyle Index" will be launched nation-wide online in Singapore's four official languages for users aged 18 and above. The index comes in the form of a quick and easy to use questionnaire of ten questions, each covering one of the following ten health domains: Body Mass Index (BMI), physical activity, diet, smoking, alcohol, sleep, stress, depressionm social/emotional support and health screenings. It will assess the overall health behaviour of the user and recommendations on HPB programmes to support the person.

Secondly, a free digital TV health and wellness channel, healthyMEtv, will be launched to increase health literacy. The channel will be available on demand and around the clock via any internet connected device. The channel will air over 1,500 TV programmes and videos in its first year, said the HPB, and have content in mainly English, with some content in Mandarin, Malay and Tamil.

Subscription will be free and programmes range from short videos on a range of medical conditions to tips on exercise, healthy eating and relaxation, and will feature presenters such as Darren Lim, Nikki Muller and well-being experts Kristy Curtis and Robert Sloan.

Finally, a Healthy Shopper programme for locals to make healthier choices in food and ingredients when grocery shopping will be rolled out in the form of a joint collaboration between the HPB and Singapore's major supermarket chains, NTUC Fairprice, Cold Storage, Giant, and Sheng Siong.

This is aimed at helping hoppers easily identify healthier food and ingredients such as fruit and vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins by a Healthy Shopper logo. In addition, a selection of healthier food items will be available every week at promotional prices to remain affordable to all.

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 said that lifestyles and social environments can be extremely hard to change.

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

"Hence, we must redouble our efforts and see what more we can do to regulate advertising and promote healthy food choices. At the same time, each person has to take responsibility for his own health."