Singapore

Singapore bans ads for high sugar drinks

Republic will be first country to do so as it steps up war on diabetes

Singapore will become the first country in the world to ban advertisements of packaged drinks with very high sugar content, in its latest salvo in the war on diabetes.

It will also be mandatory for drinks with medium-to-high sugar content to carry a label on the front of the pack to signal they are unhealthy.

Drinks affected include those in bottles, cans and packs. Soft drinks, juices, sachets of three-in-one drinks, and cultured milk and yogurt drinks are covered.

When this comes into play and what exactly will be affected will be announced next year, with more time given to manufacturers before the measures are implemented.

Announcing this yesterday, Senior Minister of State for Health Edwin Tong said that these changes are designed to encourage people to make more informed choices and to get manufacturers to reduce the sugar content in packaged sugar-sweetened beverages.

The front-of-pack label will be colour-coded and show a grade to indicate if the drink is healthy, neutral or unhealthy.

How a drink is graded depends largely, but not solely, on the amount of sugar it contains.

Other factors include the amount of saturated fat such as that found in three-in-one coffee mixes.

UNHEALTHY

The label will be compulsory only for drinks classified as unhealthy. But the label may also be used to promote healthier drinks.

The move is part of the war on diabetes, which is a major health problem in Singapore.

A survey last year found that more than half the 12 spoons of sugar people consume here daily comes from such drinks.

High-sugar drinks are popular, accounting for half of all sugar-sweetened beverages sold here.

Last December, the Ministry of Health (MOH) and Health Promotion Board (HPB) started eight weeks of public consultation on how to reduce sugar intake here.

There were four proposed measures: mandatory front-of-pack label; regulation on advertising; a sugar tax; and ban on high-sugar prepackaged beverages.

Although only two of the proposed actions are being implemented, the other options are still on the table.

Speaking at the three-day Singapore Health & Biomedical Congress at Max Atria @ Singapore Expo, Mr Tong told the media that the MOH is also looking at how sugar in freshly prepared drinks, such as bubble tea and drinks at fast-food outlets, can be regulated.

Meanwhile, major drinks manufacturers said they are "well ahead of the curve" regarding the changes.

A Nestle Singapore spokesman said the company started to reformulate its products more than 10 years ago and has worked closely with the HPB on its labelling initiatives.

A Coca-Cola spokesman noted it has been reinventing many of its recipes and coming up with new lower-sugar and no-sugar drinks.

Ms Jennifer See, managing director of F&N Foods Singapore, said products bearing the Healthier Choice Symbol account for 80 per cent of its beverage sales in Singapore.

Professor Yik Ying Teo, dean of the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at National University Singapore, hailed the move as "a step in the right direction".

But he added that there needs to be a concerted public education campaign that builds upon family and role models as the drivers for health seeking behaviours.

- ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY VANESSA LIU AND JEAN IAU

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