New ad rules to help kids eat healthier

PHOTO: New ad rules to help kids eat healthier

Parents being pestered for sweets, soft drinks or fast food by their children will soon get a helping hand in giving their kids a healthier diet.

New guidelines restricting advertisements on unhealthy food aimed at children here will apply from January.

Companies will be banned from promoting sugary treats, such as chocolate and soft drinks, in media targeted at children aged 12 and below.

Drawn up by the health authorities, and advertising and food manufacturing groups, the guidelines cover all child-targeted media, such as children's publications and subscription channel Nickelodeon.

The guidelines will be included in the Singapore Code of Advertising Practice, administered by the Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (Asas).

The idea of curbing ads on unhealthy food was mooted two years ago by Health Minister Gan Kim Yong.

A poll by the health authorities found that nine in 10 parents or guardians bought their children food or beverages if the kids asked for them after seeing an ad.

Parliamentary Secretary for Health Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim said: "Perhaps this is how we think we show love to our kids...but we must cultivate healthy dietary habits among them."

From next year, products advertised to children aged 12 and below will have to meet the Common Nutrition Criteria endorsed by the Health Promotion Board, meaning they have to limit unhealthy ingredients such as sodium, sugar and saturated fat while encouraging healthy ones such as fibre and wholegrain.

Companies must get a Nutrition Criteria Compliance Certificate and submit this to media owners before their child-targeted ads can be run.

If an advertiser flouts the rules, Asas may ask it or media owners to pull the ad.

To consider if an ad is aimed at children, Asas will look at the medium, audience, ad content and if the advertising techniques used are aimed at kids.

Only Singapore-domiciled children's websites - those with a Web address ending in ".sg" - will be affected. The guidelines do not cover product packaging and ordinary in-store display.

The move will bring Singapore in line with countries such as Britain and South Korea, which restrict similar ads. In 2012, 14 major companies such as Coca-Cola and McDonald's pledged not to advertise unhealthy food to children aged under 12.

Said Ang Peng Hwa of Nanyang Technological University's Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information: "In the short term, ad companies may lose out a little, but recipes will get re-formulated and there will be a level playing field to advertise healthier products."

Asas will hold workshops next month to help companies comply with the new guidelines.

Construction firm owner Sam Chew, 36, who has two children, said: "It's not only about what kids see in the media. Parents must also set an example and eat a healthy diet."

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