MOH to introduce mandatory labels, advertising restrictions for pre-packaged drinks high in sugar

The move comes following a review of the “international and local evidence” for the measures, and in light of feedback received from a public consultation conducted earlier this year, said MOH. (PHOTO: Getty Creative)

SINGAPORE — The Ministry of Health (MOH) will be introducing mandatory labels and advertising restrictions on pre-packaged drinks that are high in sugar.

The move comes following a review of the “international and local evidence” for the measures, and in light of feedback received from a public consultation conducted earlier this year, said MOH in a press release on Thursday (10 October).

While no date has been set for their implementation, the measures will see “less healthy” sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) – defined as drinks containing added sugar and juices with naturally occurring sugars – carry “graded, colour-coded front-of-pack nutrient summary” labels.

Under the labelling scheme, SSBs will be assigned a summary grade based on their nutritional quality, in which “sugar will be a main component”, said MOH. While it will cover the range of healthier to less healthy SSBs, labelling will only be mandatory of the less healthy segments. The ministry added that it would nonetheless encourage labelling of healthier SSBs to “aid in consumer decision-making”.

Meanwhile, advertisements for the “least healthy” SSBs will be banned on all local mass media platforms, including broadcast, print, out-of-home and online channels.

“Together, these two measures will provide consumers with nutrition information, particularly on sugar content, to make informed choices, and reduce influence from advertising, thus encouraging healthier choices and spurring industry reformulation,” said MOH.

SSBs covered by the measures will include Asian drinks, soft drinks, malted drinks, juice drinks and juices, as well as cultured milk or yoghurt drinks and three-in-one or two-in-one instant beverages. The ministry said more details would be shared next year.

Public feedback

MOH said that from 4 December last year to 15 January, it had consulted a wide range of stakeholders and the public on four possible measures to reduce Singaporeans’ sugar intake from SSBs. These were:

  • Mandatory front-of-pack nutrition labels

  • Advertising regulations for less healthy SSBs

  • Excise duty on manufacturers and importers

  • Banning the sale of higher-sugar SSBs

Based on over 4,000 responses from members of the public, health professionals, academia and representatives from the SSB and advertising industries, MOH found that 84 per cent supported mandatory front-of-pack labels, while 71 per cent backed advertising regulations.

Meanwhile, 65 per cent supported imposing taxes to encourage manufacturers to reduce the sugar level in their drinks, although some concerns were raised as to whether this would increase production costs, which would then be passed on to consumers.

While 48 per cent supported an outright ban on the sale of higher-sugar SSBs, some also said that this would deprive consumers of choice.

“Across the public and industry members, there were calls for the government to strengthen educational and promotional efforts to encourage Singaporeans to reduce their sugar intake, and to look into regulating other sources of sugar, such as freshly prepared drinks and sugary food,” said MOH.

Other suggestions raised by members of the public and industry representatives included increasing the availability of water – such as by making water dispensers available at public locations and having local F&B establishments provide it for free to customers – and having the government subsidise healthier food and drinks.

War on diabetes

The measures come as part of the MOH and Health Promotion Board’s (HPB) work in the “War on Diabetes”, which MOH declared as a whole-of-nation effort in April 2016.

In its Thursday release, MOH cited a 2018 HPB survey that found Singaporeans, on average, consume 12 teaspoons – or 60g – of sugar each day. More than half of that amount came from SSBs, and of which 64 per cent were pre-packaged SSBs.

“This is a concern as drinking an additional 250ml serving of SSB every day increases the risk of diabetes by up to 26 per cent,” said MOH. The ministry added that the average sugar level of medium- to higher-sugar SSBs has remained at five teaspoons per 250ml serving over the past decade.

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