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More APAC countries look to legislate against sugary food and drinks

2019-12-06 10:52 Friday

Consumers in Asia might find that the cost of sugary snacks and drinks get higher and higher over the next few years, as different governments introduce special taxes to encourage their citizens to choose healthier eating options.

Recent initiatives in places such as Singapore, Vietnam and Malaysia have all taken aim at combating the growing amount of obesity by putting levies on sugary foods and applying restrictions to the marketing of such products.


Starting in 2020, Singapore plans to apply rules to packaged sugary drinks such as soda and bubble tea in the same way that other countries treat tobacco. Advertisements will be prohibited, and a label announcing that a beverage is unhealthy will be compulsory, making it the first nation to implement such a policy.

The goal is to limit the high rate of sugar intake in people's diets and curb the associated health-risks including heart disease and diabetes.

Dietary experts said measures such as banning advertisements for drinks with high sugar content and taxing sugar itself can promote healthy lifestyles, lower demand and push manufacturers to offer more nutritiously beneficial options.

As incomes have gone up in Asia, eaters have turned away from traditional complex carbohydrate-based diets and toward food rich in fat, sugar, dairy, and protein, much of it processed and packaged.

On the other hand, local food cultures that posed little health risk in economically tougher times turn out to be problematic in an era of plentiful calories. Those fried treats emblematic of street food in Malaysia pose few health risks in low quantities. But thanks to their cheapness, they are now helping to make the country "the fattest nation in Asia" in the words of UNICEF.

Over in Vietnam, the government is mulling the introduction of a sugar tax. Meanwhile, Malaysia was the latest country in Asia to enforce one back in July. It places a U.S.$ 0.12 levy on every liter of drink with over 5 grams of sugar or sugar-based sweetener.

The Philippines, India, Thailand and Brunei have already imposed their own sugar taxes in the face of a trend where nutraceuticals, functional food, supplements and natural ingredients are featuring more and more in consumer consciousness.

Such targeted interventions are necessary if only to promote a healthy lifestyle at a more early age, according to Jacqueline Lo Ying-Ru, the head of mission and the World Health Organisation's (WHO) representative to Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei.

"It is very important to protect children from eating unhealthily," Lo said. She added that youngsters who were raised eating unhealthy meals are likely to retain such dietary habits into adulthood.

"A child's BMI goes up significantly when he or she has sugary drinks, and goes down when consumption of these drinks stops," Lo said. She cites the link between obesity and ailments such as diabetes and heart disease as an important driver for change.

Many countries in the Asia-Pacific region have high incidences of people being overweight or obese, with 2 out of every 4 adults, or 1 billion people overall, falling into both these two categories, according to figures from the Asian Development Bank Institute (ADBI).

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