Singapore might become the first country in the world to implement a total ban on advertisement of packaged drinks with high sugar content.
The move, which is slated to be rolled out sometime in the next four years, was announced by Senior Minister of State for Health Mr Edwin Tong, reported Straits Times. Speaking at the Singapore Health & Biomedical Congress on 10 October, he said that drinks with medium-to-high sugar content will also carry a label to indicate that it is unhealthy – reminiscent of the health warnings on tobacco products we see now.
These labels will be colour coded to indicate whether a drink is healthy, neutral or unhealthy determined largely by sugar content as well as other factors such as saturated fat content. It is a measure that has been introduced in over 30 countries already with varying degrees of success. In Chile, for example, the sale of drinks labelled unhealthy dropped by 25% in just a year and a half.
These measures in Singapore will include sugary drinks in bottles, cans, and packs including 3-in-1 instant beverages, soft drinks, juices, cultured milk, and yoghurt drinks. More information on these measures and when they might be implemented will be announced next year, said Mr Tong.
This move is part of the government’s ‘War on Diabetes’, which is a major health problem in Singapore. Diabetes is the 10 leading cause of death in Singapore, accounting for 1.3% of deaths according to the Ministry of Health (MOH).
Worryingly, more than half of the 12 teaspoons of sugar consumed by people in Singapore every day comes from sugary drinks.
Mr Tong said, “This is a concern, as drinking an additional 250ml serving of SSBs [sugar-sweetened beverages] every day increases the risk of diabetes by up to 26%.”
The minister said these measures are designed to encourage individuals to make informed choices when purchasing sugary drinks as well as to have manufacturers reduced the sugar content in their sweet drinks.
“Under the new nutrient summary label, healthier SSBs can receive a positive grade, and we leave it as an option for the manufacturers whether or not they want their products to bear the label,” said Mr Tong.
Despite being urged to reduce sugar levels in sugary drinks, manufacturers of these beverages have maintained an average of 5 teaspoons of sugar per 250ml for the last 10 years, says Mr Tong, with some drinks having as much as 8 teaspoons of sugar per 250ml.
Singapore’s War on Diabetes
This campaign was launched in 2016 to mobilise the entire country to tackle diabetes.
The MOH and Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) collaborated on mobilising citizens to raise awareness of the disease and to generate community-based recommendations on how to better manage and prevent diabetes.
As part of these efforts, MOH and the Health Promotion Board (HPB) also ran a public consultation at the end of 2018 to seek out views from the public on their suggested measures for cutting sugar intake from drinks.
Four measures MOH and HPB were looking at include a mandatory front-of-pack label, regulation on advertising, a sugar tax, and a ban of high-sugar drinks.
The consultation of 4,000 respondents revealed that about 84% were in favour of the mandatory labels while less than 50% favoured a total ban.
Mr Tong said that while industry players made it clear during the consultation that they were against a sugar tax and ban, the government will continue to study and explore those options.