Singapore

When 'healthier choice' may not mean a healthy choice at all

Even as the Health Promotion Board (HPB) looks to further tighten a scheme that labels some food products a "healthier choice", experts say more can be done so people do not mistakenly think all these foods are totally healthy.

The Healthier Choice scheme, with its trademark red pyramid label, now applies to 3,500 products - one in five food products, or a tenfold increase from when it was launched in 2001.

The label can be seen on ice creams, soft drinks and even frozen french fries.

Experts say it could be helpful to use more specific labels or offer consumers more bite-sized information.

Said Associate Professor Lee Yih Hwai, who heads the National University of Singapore Business School's marketing department: "Is the Healthier Choice more healthy than the 'healthy' choice, or simply more healthy than the 'less healthy' alternative?"

Ms Mah Wai Yee, a principal dietitian at Farrer Park Hospital, said: "People can be mistaken about the meaning of the symbol. For example, a lower-sodium Healthier Choice symbol on sauces may make people think the sauces are 'healthy', and that they can use them in large amounts."

She said that, in general, people should cook with less sauce and enhance flavours with herbs and spices instead.

The issue came up in letters to The Straits Times Forum, and comes amid rising diabetes and obesity rates here.

While brown rice and wholegrain bread are on the Healthier Choice list, so are some brands of ice cream and flavoured breakfast cereals.

HPB chief executive Zee Yoong Kang acknowledged that most may not grasp the distinction between "healthy" and "healthier" choice.

"There are very few absolutes in food," he said. "Everything is about moderation and balance." - THE STRAITS TIMES

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