1 January 2019
Can Food industry Asia combat the growing problems of obesity?
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Obesity and diabetes are intrinsically linked, and these two medical monsters are both growing in our modern societies. Part of the reason for this is because in many ways the least healthy foods have become easy to access, they are cheap and fast. We tend to have processed fast unhealthy foods at our fingertips. There are of course various food ingredients which are causing issues, but for that fast hit – and especially for children – sugar is turning into a great concern. In particular, sugary soft drinks remain one of the main contributors of free sugars to children’s diets – more than ice cream and puddings combined. Excess sugar intake leads to excess weight and an unhealthy lifestyle which is now seen to lead to (specifically) diabetes 2, heart problems and some cancers.

MOH Singapore focusses on sugary beverages

The FIA (Food Industry Asia) has called for more measures for combating the problem of how sugar is used in food products and drinks. In Singapore, the ministry of health (MOH) is focussing on reducing sugar specifically in beverages such as dry 3-in-1 mixes, cordials, yogurt drinks, fruit juices and soda drinks. Some of these (such as fruit juices) you would not expect to find an excess of sugar. On the face of it they would appear to be the healthiest of drinks to choose, but in reality, many are sweetened and therefore deliver just as much sugar as a fizzy drink.

Four proposed ways to combat the problem:

  • A total ban on pre-packed sugar-sweetened beverages
  • Single or tiered taxes on the high sugar-drinks
  • Mandatory front of pack labelling on sugar and nutrition content
  • A banning of advertising for such products on all platforms

FIA proposes complimentary campaigns

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It was clear the FIA welcomed the new drive on sugar intake but there was also a strong feeling that while the suggestions offered a guide for the future some of them may be too draconian and there maybe a need to offer education, incentive, competition etc rather than strict rules and penalties. Two ideas to run alongside proposed campaigns are outlined below:

  1. Education

Education both for business and the consumer is important here. Just labelling foodstuffs with ingredients will not be enough for the consumer to make an informed decision about what may be the healthier choice. This approach needs to be complimented with an education campaign for all age groups (this could therefore be in schools and promotional advertising for adults) so consumers recognise dangers from unhealthy foods and ingredients. Subsequently, it will encourage checking for nutritional value as a regular part of buying, while fully understanding which ingredients to avoid or choose.

  1. Working with business does not have to mean penalties

Placing taxes on products with a high-sugar content is likely to cause frustration and anger for the consumer (especially if they have not been informed of the reason for the changes). It is also quite a paternalistic and some would say despotic governmental approach that does not sit well with modern democracy.

There is still a strong feeling that a more subtle approach would be needed. In an effort to compliment the educational drive for both consumers and business, the idea is for the government to offer a grant which would allow businesses to explore how healthier drinks and foods could be formulated and put on the market.

This in turn may well be more commercially viable than it at first sounds. If the society is culturally moving away from high-content sugar products then, with education and promotion, there will no doubt be a market for the healthier products opening up.

Many businesses are already making changes…

However, the threat of tax on sugar has motivated many Asian and Western based companies in re-considering the sugar content of their products. FIA executive Matthew Kovac said “…many food companies in Singapore have already started reformulating their products to reduce sugar content, including seven major beverage companies that have pledged to reduce the amount of sugar in their drinks to 12g per 100ml or less by 2020.”

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