Speech by Mr Amrin Amin, Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Health, at the Healthy Ageing APAC Summit, 12 June 2018

Good morning, everyone.

Mr Gary Scattergood
Editor-in-Chief, FoodNavigator-Asia and Nutralngredients-Asia

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

    I am very happy to be here, and thank you for inviting me to attend the first Healthy Ageing APAC Summit. I am also very happy to see a diverse profile of guests gathered today, ranging from academics, representatives from the food industry, manufacturers, as well as policy professionals, discussing an equally explosive topic on how to meet the needs of Asia-Pacific region’s growing ageing population through food and nutrition.

AGEING AND ITS IMPLICATIONS

2        Population ageing is a global phenomenon driven by falling fertility and increased longevity. With fewer children coming into the population and people living longer, the proportion of older people in the population is increasing at an unprecedented rate.

3        Singapore is no exception. By 2030, one in four Singaporeans will be 65 years and above. This is up from one in seven today. Our pace of ageing will be one of the fastest globally.

4        As both the proportion of older people and the length of life increase throughout the world, key questions will arise. Will ageing be accompanied by a longer period of good health, or will it be associated with more illness, disability and dependency? In 2016, Singapore’s life expectancy was 82 years, better than the global average of 72 years. However, as our Prime Minister has mentioned, eight years of our old age are spent in ill health.

5        Eight years is a long time to be in ill health. It’s tough on both our seniors and their caregivers. In order to help our seniors stay healthy for longer, we must first understand the drivers of ill health in old age.

6        And as we age, our bodies change in a number of ways. Muscle loss and fat gain lead to a decline in metabolism, which means that the seniors don’t need as many calories as before, but still require the same or even higher levels of nutrients to maintain general well-being. And bone density also falls, which could lead to osteoporosis and increased likelihood of breakage.

7        These changes bring about twin challenges of disease-oriented negative health outcomes, and earlier onset of functional disabilities, such as declined mobility, among our elderly population. However, we can age well with good lifestyle habits such as eating healthily, exercising regularly, keeping our minds active and going for regular health screenings.

NUTRITION AND HEALTHY AGEING

8        The impact of ageing on health can be mitigated to a large extent through good nutrition starting from adulthood. This includes getting sufficient nutrients such as protein, calcium, vitamins and minerals to support body functions.

9        What seniors need more of are nutrient-dense foods due to their reduced metabolism and caloric need. We have found that protein intake among our population decreases with age even as the need for protein increases. There is a clear need to improve the quality of diets and ensure that we get sufficient nutrients to age well.

11       Many diseases in old age are a result of dietary habits in earlier life, such as excessive calorie and sugar intake. Hence, it is crucial to build strong foundations for healthy eating among our population.

CREATING A SUPPORTIVE ENVIRONMENT FOR HEALTHY EATING

12       Over the past few years, in Singapore, we have made good progress to support good nutrition and set our population up for healthy ageing.

13       Let me outline two key prongs of our strategy:

a)    The first is to partner industry to encourage reformulation to provide more healthier options in the market,
b)    Second is to drive demand for healthier products, and make healthier choices the easier choice.

Partnering Industry to Support Reformulation

14       Consumers everywhere are becoming more health conscious, and taste alone is no longer enough to win over their dollars. This presents a major opportunity for the food and beverage industry to innovate and come up with a healthier range of products that is both tasty and healthy.

15       Through the Healthier Choice Symbol (HCS), HPB has worked with manufacturers to reformulate and develop healthier packaged products, including lower sugar levels in beverages, higher protein and calcium fortified soy beverages, and wholemeal breads. Market share of HCS products has grown significantly over the years, from 15% in 2012 to 24% in 2018.

16       In order to support food companies to innovate and reformulate, HPB introduced the Healthier Ingredient Development Scheme (HIDS) last year. A total of 35 million dollars have been set aside to help companies improve the quality of common foods in our diet, including healthier cooking oils, whole grain rice and noodles, as well as drinks, sauces, and desserts that are lower in sugar.

17       Unlike most grants which typically cover capability building costs like R&D, the HIDS grant focuses on providing end-to-end support. This includes product development, as well as marketing and promotional efforts to help facilitate the acceptance and uptake of healthier food products.

18       Manufacturers have benefitted from the scheme. An example is the Kang Kang Noodles, which sells low GI noodles, which helps to maintain blood glucose levels.

19       Working with the manufacturers is not enough. HPB has also gone down the value chain to connect the healthier food products manufacturers with food service providers to create healthier dishes for Singaporeans. Over the weekend, I launched the Wholegrain Weekend at the Geylang Serai market, where HPB worked with hawkers and wholegrain suppliers to dish out healthier wholegrain versions of local flavours, such as nasi lemak, mee goreng, chicken rice and pastries. These were very well received by both the diners as well as hawkers. Today one third of stalls are offering healthier options, including whole grain dishes and lower sugar beverages. This is a very encouraging start, at one of the most popular hawker centres in Singapore.

Driving Demand and Making Healthier Choices the Easier Choice

20       While we partner with industry to grow the variety of healthier options in the market, the Government is likewise committed to continue driving demand for healthier options, and making healthier choices the easier one.

21       Over the last three years, HPB has doubled its investment to create consumer demand for healthier products. One key initiative is the nationwide “Eat, Drink, Shop Healthy” Campaign, where consumers are rewarded for choosing healthier options when they eat, drink and buy groceries at partner merchants. We digitalise the process via a mobile application that has enabled us to collaborate with over 120 retailers with 3,000 outlets island-wide, including major drinks stalls like bubble tea.

22       The Healthier Choice Symbol (HCS) is also another initiative to help consumers distinguish a healthier food product. Seven in ten Singaporeans have used it to make healthier food choices.

23       With efforts both on the supply and demand for healthier food, a virtuous cycle can be created to tilt the market towards healthier choices and shape consumer preferences and palates over time.

INNOVATION IN FOODS THAT SUPPORT HEALTHY AGEING

24       What I have highlighted are strategies to support healthy eating in general. Specific to the rapidly ageing population, there will be growing demands for healthier senior-friendly foods. Recognising the immense business potential in this field, companies have responded by creating foods especially for seniors.

25       Allswell, one of our local beverage manufacturers, has developed a range of healthier products that help meet the nutritional needs of our seniors. One such product is a protein and calcium-enriched low-sugar soybean powdered drink that supports muscle and bone health. Another innovative product is an instant rice porridge fortified with Omega 3 and fibres to improve heart health.

26       There are also opportunities to partner our local food research centres to develop healthier products that meet the changing needs of our population. The Singapore Polytechnic’s Food Innovation and Resource Centre is developing a ‘Silver Menu’ of innovative food prototypes targeted at seniors, and these can eventually be adopted by companies. These include food thickeners that allow blended mixtures to be moulded into shapes that mimic their original form, like spinach or fish slices. The development and manufacture of such innovative food products that serve the nutritional needs of seniors offer good prospects for growth within Singapore and this region. 

CONCLUSION 

27       The Singapore Government is committed to strengthen its support for the food and beverage industry to spur innovations in the healthier food market, and use Singapore as a launchpad into an increasingly ageing APAC region. Besides monetary support offered through the HIDS, companies can also tap on the recently launched FoodInnovate initiative for knowledge and resources to create healthier food products for the future.

28       I urge you to tap on the resources we offer, and look forward to working together with you to create an environment that empowers Singaporeans and populations in the region to eat, live and age well. Let’s make this summit a successful one that is worthy of a tweet or two.

Thank you.

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