According to Levie Cequena, EAS Asia food and health policy manager, surveys of Asian countries in the recent years have shown increasing rates of obesity.
“In Singapore, in the survey made November 2010, the obesity rate stands at 11 per cent up from 6.9 per cent in 2004, while in Malaysia, the 2010 survey also showed that 30 per cent are obese and 30 per cent are overweight,” she said.
Singapore sets the standard
Cequena pointed out that Singapore has been most proactive in implementing a health logo programme in the country with the Healthier Choice Symbols (HCS) it introduced for packaged food products.
“Products carrying these logos are generally lower in total fat, saturated fat, sodium and sugar, while some are also higher in dietary fibre and calcium compared to similar products within the same food category,” she added.
She explained that each food category has a separate set of nutritional criteria to adhere to and that to date, there are guidelines covering over 60 food categories and there are more than 2400 HCS products in the market.
Singapore also has the Healthier Snack Symbol logo, which was introduced in 2007, as a variant of the HCS logo, which is awarded to snacks like biscuits, cookies, crisps, ice cream and plain cakes which are healthier, compared to snacks in a similar category.
Others following suit
Malaysia too has a voluntary Healthier Choice Logo programme similar to the one in Singapore, according to Cequena, with a similar aim to identify food products that are healthier choices from the same category of food.
Five categories of food products were identified for the programme, namely cereal-based foods, canned foods, fats and oils, soft drinks and beverages and dairy products, she said.
“The Ministry of Health and the food industry had several discussions to determine the nutrient profile required to qualify for the logo, but the programme has been put on hold as the ministry is now considering other more comprehensive systems,” she added.
The Philippines also has a system, to be implemented in a year, where a “Healthier for you” seal from the Department of Health follows guidelines prepared by the Nutritionist-Dieticians’ Association for four nutrients: fats, sodium, dietary fibre and sugar.
“Those which can use the seals signify that they have passed strict criteria that cover allowable limits on fat, sugar, and cholesterol among other important dietary concerns,” she said.
Aside from processed foods and menu items in fast food outlets, the seal will be applied on beverages, juice drinks, infant formula, all kinds of milk and other food, she added.
Local food makers push the trend
According to Cequena, what is noticeable is that most of the products with the health logos are from local food companies who see the logos as another way to market their products.
“It is my view that this trend will continue in the long run, especially in the Asian region because of the growing awareness for the need to have healthy lifestyles,” she said.
Further, Cequena expects that more countries will follow the trend set by Singapore and followed up by Malaysia and the Philippines.
“In Indonesia, a national strategic plan on NCD [non-communicable disease] is currently being discussed similar to what Malaysia has, while in Thailand measures to address obesity are currently being discussed,” she added.