We want to hear from you. Take part in the Public Consultation on the Strengthening of Food Advertising Guidelines for Children today.
Worldwide Trends in Childhood Obesity
1. Increasing rates of childhood obesity have been reported in many countries over the last 20 to 30 years1, 2, 3. Similarly, the prevalence of childhood overweight/obesity in Singapore has increased over the past few decades and currently stands at 11%4, 5.
2. Obesity ranks as the fifth leading risk for death globally6. Childhood obesity is an international public health concern as it is associated not only with an increased risk of adult obesity and non-communicable diseases (e.g. cardiovascular diseases, cancers, diabetes), but also with a number of immediate health-related problems (e.g. hypertension, insulin resistance)6. The risk factors for obesity include a sedentary lifestyle and consumption of energy-dense and nutrient-poor foods and beverages.
Effects of Food Advertising on Children
3. International reviews by organisations such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Institute of Medicine (IOM) found evidence that links the commercial marketing of foods to poor diets in children7, 8, 9, 10, 11. The evidence showed that there is extensive food advertising to children. Such advertising tends to focus on energy-dense and nutrient-poor foods, which undermines recommendations for a healthy diet by health professionals. The evidence also revealed that food advertising influences children’s food preferences, purchase requests to parents, food choices and consumption patterns.
4. In addition, research found that children, especially the younger ones, do not comprehend the persuasive intent of advertising12. They generally lack the capability to effectively evaluate commercial claims and appeals, and therefore tend to accept the information conveyed in advertising as truthful, accurate and unbiased. They are thus more susceptible to commercial persuasion.
International Calls for Restriction of Food Advertising to Children
5. In view of the growing scientific evidence that food advertising affects children’s food choices and dietary habits, WHO has called for action to restrict the advertising of foods and beverages high in fat, sugar or salt to children. In 2010, the World Health Assembly passed a Resolution urging Member States to introduce controls on the advertising of such foods and beverages to children6.
6. The different approaches across the policy spectrum, adopted by various countries to strengthen food marketing standards for children, are as follows
– Statutory regulation, which is part of national legislation, adopted in countries such as Quebec (Canada), the United Kingdom and South Korea
– Government-approved guidelines which are issued or implemented by a government or mandated body, adopted in countries such as Finland, Denmark and Malaysia
– Self-regulation by industry, adopted in countries such as Australia and the United States
Government-approved forms of self-regulation have been the dominant approach undertaken globally.
DEVELOPMENT OF GUIDELINES FOR FOOD ADVERTISING TO CHILDREN IN SINGAPORE
7. In line with these international efforts, the Ministry of Health (MOH) and Health Promotion Board (HPB) are currently working to review and strengthen the marketing standards for advertising of food and drink products high in fat, sugar or salt to children in Singapore. In the developmental process, steps undertaken include a review of the current practice and collation/analysis/assessment of relevant local data. Consultations were also held with key stakeholders in the public, private and people sectors.
8. Advertisements in Singapore are guided by the Singapore Code of Advertising Practice (SCAP)14. While SCAP has guidelines governing the types of advertisements that can be directed to children, only one clause relates to food and beverage advertisements currently:
“Advertisements should not actively encourage children to eat excessively throughout the day or to replace main meals with confectionery or snack foods.”
Leisure Activities of Children in Singapore
9. Studies assessing the leisure time activities of children in Singapore found that television watching and reading were ranked among the most preferred or most frequently undertaken leisure activities of the young15, 16, 17.
Food and Beverage Advertising in Singapore
10. An analysis of data on advertising dollars spent by the food and beverage industry in Singapore in 2011 found that almost four-fifth of the advertising dollars went to television and print media18.
Consultations with Stakeholders in Public, Private and People Sectors
11. Consultations have been conducted with stakeholders from the public/regulatory sector [e.g. Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts (MICA), Media Development Authority (MDA), Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (ASAS)], private sector (e.g. food industry, media owners and advertising agencies) and people sector (e.g. focus group discussions with parents). The general agreement is that this is an important initiative and more robust standards for food advertising to children should be developed.
12. The above-mentioned factors and feedback obtained would be taken into consideration in developing the guidelines.
13. The proposal is to strengthen food advertising standards for children in Singapore in accordance with the recommendations by the WHO6.
Policy approach to be adopted
The intention is to introduce a set of government-approved food advertising guidelines for children which would serve as a code of conduct for the industry.
The target group would be children, especially the younger ones, as evidence has shown that younger children have little understanding of the persuasive intent of advertising and hence would require protection10,12.
Distinguishing foods and beverages as targets for advertising restriction
Foods and beverages high in fat, sugar or salt would be the targets for the proposed food advertising restriction.
Choice of communication channels
The proposed restriction would apply to television and print media in the initial stage given its potential impact as television watching and reading were ranked among the most preferred leisure activities of the young in Singapore15,16,17. For these media, specific areas will be targeted (e.g. hours during which children’s programmes are aired on free-to-air television; dedicated children’s channels for subscription television; and print media targeted at children), as the audience would be predominantly children.
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