Singapore has announced a total ban on advertisements of packaged drinks with very high sugar content, as part of an on-going bid to tackle diabetes, making it the first country in the world to do so.

The ban will apply across television, print, billboards and online channels, such as social media websites, and the move appears to be more extensive than measures in Mexico, the UK and Canada which restrict when ads for high-calorie food and drinks can be shown on television.

In addition, drinks including those with medium-to-high sugar content must carry a label on the front of the pack to signal that it is unhealthy. Drinks affected include those in bottles, cans and packs, and the code covers two- or three-in-one instant drinks, soft drinks, juices and cultured milk and yoghurt drinks.

Senior Minister of State for Health Edwin Tong said these changes are designed to encourage people to make more informed choices and to get manufacturers to reduce the sugar content in packaged sugar-sweetened beverages or SSBs.

The amount of sugar will be a large, but not the sole, determinant of the grade a drink gets. Other factors include the amount of saturated fat, such as that found in three-in-one coffee mixes.

The label will be compulsory only for drinks classified as unhealthy, but healthier drinks may use the label as promotion.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) and the Health Promotion Board (HPB) will now conduct consumer focus group discussions on the design of the nutrition labels and obtain feedback from drink manufacturers and advertising firms on the implementation details of the two measures.

The front-of-pack label will be colour-coded and show a grade to indicate if the drink is healthy, neutral or unhealthy. More than 30 countries have introduced such labels, with great success.

MOH cited Chile as an example, which adopted mandatory ‘high in sugar’ labels from 2016, resulting in a 50% reduction in the number of drinks carrying the ‘high in sugar’ labels in eight months, while purchases of higher-sugar drinks dropped by 25% within one and a half years.

There likely will be four or five grades, similar to the Nutri-Score model implemented in France, the MOH said, but it added that the details have yet to be ironed out.

When this comes into play and what exactly will be affected will be announced in 2020, while implementation is expected to take between one and four years.

A survey in 2018 found that more than half the 12 teaspoons of sugar people consume in the city-state come from sweetened drinks.

Sourced from The Straits Times, Today Online, Reuters