As the Health Promotion Board (HPB) is considering tightening the Healthier Choice scheme, experts seek greater clarification on the label so that consumers do not mistakenly assume that all foods with the label are outright healthy.
Health experts call for more specific labels that state how much healthier a product is, or offer consumers additional information in bite-sized format.
Currently, the Healthier Choice scheme now applies to 3,500 products – a tenfold increase from its launch in 2001. One in five food products bear the label.
Experts are concerned that the label may misled consumers into believing that all foods with the label are healthy and good for their diet.
Numerous food products are included in the Healthier Choice list such as brown rice and whole-grain bread to certain brands of ice cream and flavoured breakfast cereal.
HPB executive Zee Yoong Kang acknowledged that the average consumer may not be able to discern between a “healthy” and “healthier” choice.
He added that there are very few absolutes in food and cautioning that a good diet is one with moderation and balance.
The HPB has been tightening the requirements for those who want to use the Healthier Choice label. For instance, in 2011, most sweetened drinks containing no more than 8 per cent of sugar could obtain the label. However, as of 2015, they must have no more than 6 per cent. These requirements will become more stringent as Singaporeans' taste buds shift towards healthier options.
Some Healthier Choice items already carry a qualifying statement, such as "25 per cent lower sugar compared to regular soft drinks".
However, experts are concerned that some people may not understand this and simply use the Healthier Choice symbol as a guide. They call for greater awareness and public education for these consumers.
Source: “Healthier Choice label: Call for greater clarity”, The Straits Times, 9 October 2017.