Speech by Associate Professor Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, Parliamentary Secretary for Health, 4 June 2014 at Fish & Co, Nex Mall

Mr Lucas Chow, HPB Chairman

Mr Zee Yoong Kang, HPB CEO

Distinguished Guests

Introduction

Firstly I’ll like to thank Lucas and staff in HPB for working very hard to implement this programme to take care of Singaporeans. We have healthier programmes to make sure Singaporeans live healthily and lead better lives, thanks to your hard work.

2.          I am very happy to join you here today, to announce HPB’s Food Strategy and to launch the Healthier Dining Programme. And special thanks to our partners—the amount of support we get from our partners is tremendous. Thank you.

3.          Food is a topic very close to my heart. The depth and variety of the food scene here in Singapore is a signature of our cultural diversity.

4.          Often, because of the sheer variety of tasty and affordable food available, we eat more than what we need, because big portion represents value for money. Taste is a big factor when it comes to deciding what to eat. This approach, unfortunately, means that we do not always make the healthiest choices when it comes to food.

Changing dietary patterns

5.          The National Nutrition Survey 2010 gave us important insights into Singaporeans’ dietary patterns. The Survey showed a worrying trend in the quality and quantity of Singaporeans’ diets. While Singaporeans’ diet is nutritionally adequate in protein, vitamins and minerals, Singaporeans are eating more saturated fat, and not enough whole grains. We are eating excessive amounts of refined carbohydrates such as white rice, which has been linked to an increased risk of developing diabetes. An increasing number of Singaporeans are also consuming more calories than they need on a daily basis. In 2010, six in ten Singaporeans exceeded the recommended energy intake.

6.          The National Nutrition Survey 2010 also showed an increase in the proportion of Singaporeans who add sugar to their beverages. Currently, 60 percent of Singaporeans consume two or more sweetened drinks a day. On average, sweetened beverages contributed about 200 calories per person per day, mostly in the form of empty calories which make people feel hungry more quickly and easily, and hence likely to eat more than necessary.

7.          In April earlier this year, I launched the Healthy Living Master Plan. The accessibility to healthier food is one of the commitments that HPB and the Ministry of Health made to provide Singaporeans with at least three healthy living options near our home, office and schools by 2020.

HPB’s Food Strategy

8.     We often perceive healthier food to be less tasty. For those of us who do prefer healthier food, we often cannot find enough variety and in some cases, healthier food can be more expensive, based on feedback we received from the ground.

9.     This is why HPB is embarking on its ambitious Food Strategy, which aims to help change Singaporeans’ diet when they dine out and eat at home. Through the Food Strategy, Singaporeans will have more healthier food choices which are more accessible and affordable. Our long term goal is for people to make small changes in their diets to become accustomed to these healthier options, thus making the healthier choice the default choice.

10.   The Food Strategy comprises of three key initiatives – First, the Healthier Dining Programme, second, the increased accessibility of less sweetened beverages and finally the increased availability of Healthier Choice Products in supermarkets – these are initiatives underpinned by strong partnerships with the F&B industry.

11.   From June onwards, HPB is taking a phased approach in executing the three key pillars of the Food Strategy, starting with the first milestone event today – the launch of the Healthier Dining Programme.

The Healthier Dining Programme

12.   The Healthier Dining Programme is a scaling up of HPB’s pilot Healthier Hawker Programme launched in 2012. Then, HPB worked with ingredient suppliers and individual hawkers to increase the availability and use of healthier ingredients through a subsidy scheme. While the response to the pilot was encouraging, it was challenging for HPB to sustain the programme as it meant convincing individual hawkers to adopt the use of healthier ingredients.

13.   However, the pilot Healthier Hawker Programme gave HPB three key learning points which it applied to the Healthier Dining Programme. First, HPB has to influence all key aspects of the food supply chain to sustain the provision of healthier food options to consumers. Second, to increase the accessibility of the healthier food options, HPB will work with chain eateries and caterers. Third, HPB will need to help generate consumer demand for healthier food options through nudges and incentives.

14.   Going forward, the Ingredient Subsidy under the Healthier Hawker Programme will be extended to all qualified wholesalers who commit to distribute and promote the use of healthier ingredients. HPB will share the details of this subsidy scheme in due course.

15.   The National Nutrition Survey 2010 showed that 60 percent of Singaporeans are eating out at least four times a week – at hawker centres, coffee shops, food courts, restaurants and coffee houses. On average, such a meal contains 700-800 calories[1] – a Singaporean who eats out three times a day could easily exceed his or her recommended daily energy intake.

16.   The key focus of the Healthier Dining Programme is therefore to make healthier dining-out options accessible to Singaporeans through the provision of 500-calorie meals. This will help Singaporeans avoid over-consumption and to meet their daily nutrition requirements.

17.   For a start, HPB is partnering 18 food service providers to serve 500-calorie meals across some 700 outlets and stalls island-wide, and 16 worksite canteens catering to about 10,000 workers daily. The partners comprise restaurant chains, quick service providers, caterers and food courts, and provide a wide variety of different cuisines and food choices that cater to the varied palates of Singaporeans.

I must say I went through a few outlets earlier, and I’m very happy that the nutritious food looks tasty. A lot of effort went into making sure that people are not afraid and not shy of healthier food options. How you cook and the oil you use have an impact on the outcome. Fish & Co, Swensen’s, Subway are some of our partners. Some countries overseas with healthier food options usually separate these healthier options from what people like to eat. But here, efforts to reach out to all segments of society regardless of one’s dietary requirement are being made.

18.   HPB targets to increase its number of partners to 30 by the end of the year. HPB also aims to increase the number of available healthier eat-out meals to 180 million meals per year, or 20% of all eat-out meals, by 2020.

19.   Amongst us today are market pioneers which have already introduced smaller portion servings as a clever extension of menu diversity. These are exemplary steps that can help change mindsets to get customers to redefine “value for money” to focus on quality rather than quantity.

20.   In active support of HPB’s goals, some restaurant chains and fast service restaurants have started offering these healthier food options.

21.   For example, Fish & Co. is offering 11 different 500-calorie meals priced at around 40 per cent cheaper than the regular menu items. This helps to debunk the perception that healthier meals are more expensive. We want to make healthier food options both more accessible and affordable. We will get to try some of these healthier meals later at lunch.

22.   Caterers are also doing their part to spread the healthier dining message. Saybons, an eatery which also offers catering services, gives a fifty-cent rebate per person to customers who opt for ice water instead of sugared beverages in its catering packages. In conjunction with the Healthy Dining Programme, Saybons has introduced Skinny Crepes, and a 4-course Skinny Crepe Set meal that is below 500kcals in its eatery outlets.

23.   Food court chains such as Foodfare have been working with their tenants to include one 500-calorie meal per stall while Kopitiam has included in its license agreement, the requirement for tenants to include at least one 500-calorie meal in their menus. There is commitment by our partners. All of us need to play a part to encourage healthier dining.

24.   In tandem with the roll-out of the Healthier Dining Programme, HPB will implement promotional campaigns to generate demand for healthier food options. We envision that in time, consumers will get to enjoy affordable, tasty, nutritious and healthier meals at more food outlets island-wide.

Less Sweetened Beverages

25.   To further reduce caloric intake, HPB will work with partners to encourage Singaporeans to drink unsweetened or lower-sugar beverages in food courts and coffee shops in the next phase of the Food Strategy.

26.   On a wider level, HPB will also work with major drinks players to encourage the consumption of water products and less sweetened drinks in our communities, schools and workplaces.

The Healthier Choice Symbol (HCS) Programme

27.   The third phase of the Food Strategy targets Singaporeans who eat at home. The Healthier Choice Symbol (HCS) on packaged food products helps them to make informed food choices when grocery shopping.

28.   In the coming months, HPB will work with food manufacturers to grow the variety of Healthier Choice Symbol (HCS) products to increase consumer choices. At the same time, HPB will work with supermarket chains to make more of these HCS products accessible and affordable to Singaporeans eating at home.

Conclusion

29.   As Singaporeans live longer, it is important that they live well too. To this end, a healthy diet is important. We want to make it possible for Singaporeans to eat what they want and drink what they like, while keeping their health and making healthy living a part of their everyday living. The Food Strategy is so far the most extensive initiative that HPB has undertaken to help Singaporeans eat healthily in and out of home, with the aim of not sacrificing all that makes food dear to us.  To make the Food Strategy a success, the collaboration among HPB and its partners in the F&B industry is key.

30.   On this note, I would like to say a big welcome to all the partners on board the Healthier Dining Programme, and I look forward to more healthier food choices as we work together to achieve Healthy Living Every Day for all.

31.   Thank you.     


 

[1] National Nutrition Survey 2010

 

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