The Ministry of Health (MOH) and the Health Promotion Board (HPB) of Singapore are conducting a public consultation from 4 December 2018 to 25 January 2019 to seek views from the public and key stakeholders on the possible measures to reduce Singaporeans’ sugar intake from pre-packaged sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs). Singapore has the highest prevalence of diabetes among developed nations, with nearly one in nine persons suffering from the disease. MOH declared a ‘War on Diabetes’ in 2016 to mobilize a whole-of-society effort to tackle the disease and the steps being considered to reduce consumption of SSBs are part of this.
Singaporeans are consuming on average twelve teaspoons (or 60g) of sugar daily. More than half of Singaporeans’ daily sugar intake comes from SSBs, of which pre-packaged SSBs contribute 64% of this intake. More pre-packaged SSBs are consumed per person per day in Singapore than in many other Asian jurisdictions. Although the average sugar level of all pre-packaged SSBs has fallen from five to three teaspoons over the past 10 years, the average sugar level for medium- and higher-sugar products which make up over half of the total sales of pre-packaged SSBs, has remained high at five teaspoons.
MOH is seeking views on four possible measures, which are not mutually exclusive, towards pre-packaged SSBs:
Mandatory Front-of-Pack Nutrition Label: MOH says that FOP nutrition-summary labels, as compared to a full listing of nutrition information, have been shown to be more effective in helping consumers easily identify products with higher sugar content and/or poorer nutrition quality, as these do not require sophisticated nutrient knowledge. Overseas experience has also shown that adoption of such labels is slow and biased towards healthier products when implemented on a voluntary basis.
Advertising Regulations: Currently Singapore has voluntary guidelines to limit the advertising of less healthy food and drinks to children which cover only limited TV time-belts and media channels. To address the needs of the general population, two options are being considered: 1) Make the current restrictions mandatory and expand them to include more TV time-belts and media channels that children are exposed to; or 2) Ban advertising across all time-belts and mass media channels.
Excise Duty on Manufacturers and Importers: Duties on SSBs would aim to encourage manufacturers to reformulate their products and to encourage consumers to choose healthier drinks that are lower in sugar content or drink plain water.
Ban on Higher-Sugar Pre-Packaged SSBs: This would introduce a nationwide ban on the sale of higher-sugar pre-packaged SSBs to further discourage consumption of such SSBs. Currently, SSBs with more than three teaspoons of sugar per 250ml serving are not allowed to be sold in schools and on government premises. In 2017, seven major SSB manufacturers have also pledged to limit the sugar content in their pre-packaged SSBs sold in Singapore to no more than six teaspoons per 250ml serving.
(Sources: Ministry of Health, Singapore; Channel NewsAsia)