Review criteria for awarding 'Healthier Choice' label

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was right to turn the spotlight on diabetes and its adverse effects on Singaporeans.

We must be smart in the fight against this disease.

A multi-pronged approach is clearly needed. In this vein, the Health Promotion Board (HPB) should review the criteria it uses to award its "Healthier Choice" label, especially when it comes to the use of artificial sweeteners.

For example, some drinks carry the Healthier Choice label because they purportedly contain no sugar. But their ingredient list shows that they contain aspartame and acesulfame potassium - artificial sweeteners.

Nutritionists have warned of the health hazards and negative side effects, including dementia and cancer, associated with the consumption of such sugar substitutes. An increasing number of health experts are against using artificial sweeteners as a healthier alternative to sugar.

Given the health risks, the HPB should review its stand on this issue and be more stringent in awarding its Healthier Choice label.

It should also consider introducing a "Suitable For Diabetics" logo, as it is possible for a Healthier Choice product to be unsuitable for diabetic consumers.

For example, a popular malt beverage which carries the Healthier Choice label actually contains much higher sugar content than its competitors, but diabetics may choose to consume it instead because of the label.

Many Singaporeans are laymen and rely on professional bodies like the HPB to provide health information and guidance.

In this protracted fight against diabetes, the authorities need to provide robust guidelines when it comes to food and beverages.

Irwin Yeo

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 05, 2017, with the headline 'Review criteria for awarding 'Healthier Choice' label'. Print Edition | Subscribe