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HPB unveils plan to get Singaporeans to eat healthier meals

500-calorie meals at restaurants, fewer sweet drinks in schools and better labelling at supermarkets among the initiatives by the Health Promotion Board (HPB) to provide Singaporeans with healthier food options.

SINGAPORE: The Health Promotion Board (HPB) on Wednesday (June 4) announced a “food strategy” to provide Singaporeans with more options for healthier eating.

There has been a “worrying deterioration in the dietary quality of Singaporeans”, the HPB said in a statement. An increasing number of Singaporeans are also consuming more calories than they need on a daily basis, with six in 10 exceeding their recommended energy intake. Singaporeans are also eating more saturated fat and insufficient amounts of whole grains, it said.

The strategy comprises three key initiatives which will be implemented over six months:

HEALTHIER DINING PROGRAMME

This initiative aims to increase the number of healthier eat-out meals to 180 million meals annually by 2020, or one-fifth of all meals consumed outside. For a start, HPB is partnering 18 food service providers to serve 500-calorie meals across 700 outlets and stalls, and is targeting to increase this number of partners to 30 by the end of the year. 

Under the HPB's Healthier Dining Programme, Fish & Co. has specially designed eleven low-calorie dishes, such as seafood spaghetti and the Mediterranean pizza, that are priced around 40% cheaper than the regular menu items.

"We definitely still have a healthy profit, because we opened up another category," said Assistant Marketing Manager at Fish & Co Tan Yilin. "Our objective here is to target another market that the health-conscious (can come into)."

Also in conjunction with the Healthier Dining Programme, Saybons has introduced lower-calorie Skinny Crepes and a 4-course Skinny Crepe Set meal that is below 500 calories. 

Saybons Manager Ian Choo says they made sure the taste of the crepe was not compromised. 

"The easiest thing to do was to take away the cheese, put in lots of vegetables in its place," said Mr Choo. "But the problem with that is that people will not like it very much, because the cheese holds the taste of the crepe together. So what we actually did was the next best thing. We reduced the amount of cheese by 50% and put vegetables in its place."

A 2010 national survey on nutrition found that 60% of Singaporeans eat out at least four times a week. On average, their meals contain 700 to 800 calories. If a person were to eat out three times a week, they could easily exceed their recommended daily energy intake by 200 calories, said the HPB. 

Officials hope that by providing more options for 500-calorie meals or less, Singaporeans will avoid over-consumption and meet their daily recommended nutrition intake.

"At the end of the day, it becomes a natural process," said the Parliamentary Secretary for Health, Associate Professor Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim. "It becomes a default choice. So we want to encourage more partners, more eateries, to come on board this."

The Healthier Dining Programme is a scaled up version of HPB's pilot Healthier Hawker Programme, which was launched in 2012. During that programme, HPB worked with ingredient suppliers and individual hawkers to increase the availability and use of healthier ingredients through a subsidy scheme.

Now, to incentivise healthier eating, a new subsidy scheme will be given to qualified wholesalers selling healthier ingredients.

"The government will see how we can pay the price difference between healthy and unhealthy ingredients." said HPB CEO Zee Yoong Kang. "That price difference, when it translates to an individual meal, it is actually not more than a couple of cents per meal. And what will happen is over time, as more suppliers come forth in response to this subsidy, we will find that the price of healthy ingredients will reduce because of economies of scale."

More details are available at the Healthier Dining Programme website.

CUTTING EMPTY CALORIES

To reduce caloric intake, HPB will work with major beverage players to encourage Singaporeans to consume less sugared beverages, and to increase the availability of reduced-sugar drinks and water products in community, schools and workplaces.

HEALTHIER CHOICE PRODUCTS

To encourage Singaporeans to choose healthier food options when eating at home, HPB will work with food manufacturers to increase the variety of Healthier Choice Symbol (HCS) products. In addition, HPB will work with supermarket chains to make HCS products more affordable and accessible to Singaporeans.

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