Singapore

HPB: Focus on good diet for kids instead of formula brand


The Health Promotion Board (HPB) will be kicking off a multi-year campaign aimed at educating parents on the nutritional needs of children by the end of the month. The move comes amid a public debate over the high prices and the nutritional value of infant formula.

HPB chief executive Zee Yoong Kang told The Straits Times that $1 million has been set aside each year for the next five years. It will go towards advertising, brochures and social media efforts, among others.

HPB will also be working with organisations such as the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and Singapore National Employers Federation to encourage more employers to create breastfeeding-friendly workplaces for mums.

While the HPB has traditionally focused on encouraging breastfeeding, it will ramp up education on the nutritional composition of formula to help parents make more informed decisions, said Mr Zee.

An estimated 95 per cent of formula sales in 2015 comprised "premium" and speciality milk, with 5 per cent for "standard" milk, which costs less than half the price, said a report released by the Competition Commission of Singapore last week.

The average price of formula has more than doubled over the last decade.

The authorities have said that all formula sold here meet safety standards and nutritional requirements, and urged against using price as a proxy for quality.

Dr Annie Ling, director of HPB's policy, research and surveillance division, analysed nutritional labels of eight Stage 2 formula brands on shelves here.

Stage 2 formula is for babies older than six months.

She concluded there is little difference in nutritional value between them, with the only substantive difference found in levels of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), which is important for the development of the brain, nervous system and eyes.

Some brands seek to differentiate themselves by adding supplemental nutrients, but evidence for their added benefit is inconclusive, said Mr Zee.

Also not all of the more expensive brands have higher levels of DHA than cheaper ones.

Dr Ling said there are lower-cost weaning foods that can be introduced at six months that contain more DHA than "premium" formula brands, along with other nutrients needed.

She said after six months, the focus should shift towards complementary food.Delaying the introduction of food can lead to fussy eating and developmental issues.

"Rather than focusing on which (formula) brand is the best, parents should look towards building a good and solid diet for their children," she said.


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