Code launched to keep kids away from unhealthy diet

James Kon

Children in Brunei Darussalam are not exempted from being exposed to the consequences of increasingly extensive marketing on unhealthy food and beverages.

Findings from a general survey conducted by the Health Promotion Centre in Brunei-Muara District in 2014, found that over one-third of local newspapers and more than half of the billboards and grocery stores surveyed contain advertisements of unhealthy food and beverages such as fast food and canned products.

More than half of the local radio network has fast food advertisements and almost three quarter of beverages advertised are high in sugar. Fast food is also heavily advertised on social media such as Facebook and Instagram.

The Health Promoting School Survey carried out in schools under the Ministry of Education (MoE) and the Ministry of Religious Affairs (MoRA) in 2016, found unhealthy food and beverage marketing to students take place both at and outside of the school grounds. Over one quarter of schools (28.4 per cent) had advertisements of unhealthy food and beverages such as fast food, sugar-sweetened beverages and ice cream on school grounds and mostly through pamphlets in the form of flyers and posters.

Minister of Health Dato Seri Setia Dr Haji Mohd Isham bin Haji Jaafar raised the issue of irresponsible advertisement and marketing of unhealthy food and beverages targetted at children in his address as the guest of honour at the launch of the ‘Code on Responsible Marketing on Food and Beverages to Children In Brunei Darussalam’ at Al-‘Afiah Hall, Ministry of Health yesterday.

The minister also pointed at a survey on ‘Advertising and Marketing Practices of Food and Beverages to Children’ conducted in December 2020, participated by 183 parents and guardians as well as 140 companies from the food and beverage industry, and marketing and advertising agencies in Brunei-Muara District.

The findings from the survey showed there were more unhealthy food and drink advertisements observed by parents and guardians, compared to healthier ones within the past month.

Minister of Health Dato Seri Setia Dr Haji Mohd Isham bin Haji Jaafar delivering the speech. PHOTO: JAMES KON

Social media, he said, “is among the platform frequently used to advertise unhealthy food and drinks in the country accounting for 78.1 per cent, followed by advertising through billboards at 47.0 per cent and advertising through local radio networks at 35.5 per cent”.

Alhamdulillah,” he said, “based on the survey, over 90 per cent of parents and guardians as well as representatives from the food and beverages industry and advertising agencies felt that irresponsible unhealthy food and beverage marketing contributed an increase rate of obesity among children while acknowledging that the industries have an important role to play in controlling the exposure, given their power and influence of unhealthy food and beverages to children in the country.

Almost all parents and guardians agreed that the government needs to regulate the marketing of food and drinks that have high salt, sugar and saturated fat contents to children. Additionally, 82.5 per cent of parents and guardians agreed that a code of conduct will help to reduce the rate of obesity among children.

The impact of non-communicable diseases, the minister said, “are becoming more widespread. It not only affects the health of individuals but also their well-being and productivity as well as the social economic development of individuals, the community and the country in general.”

The minister added, “We know that the risk factors of these non-communicable diseases are caused by an unhealthy and unbalanced diet, little to no physical activity, obesity and smoking. Such unhealthy daily lifestyle practices are largely influenced by our environment, including the environment where we live, work, study and eat.

“Therefore, measures for the prevention of non-communicable diseases require strategies and approaches at various levels, as well as strong cooperation from the stakeholders. One of the effective approaches is through the formulation of policies that can influence and change the marketing and nutrition environment.”

The wide availability and variety of marketing techniques used for a majority of products, especially food and beverage products that are of high in fat, sugar or salt, he believed, “have been identified as challenges and obstacles in the societal effort in promoting healthier food and beverage choices”.

In the era of globalisation, the minister said, “Our society is often influenced by various types of advertising. This includes advertisement of unhealthy food and beverage products targetted at children. This is particularly troubling because exposure to the advertising and marketing of such products can stimulate unhealthy eating behaviours and increase the risk of early onset of obesity in children.”

Around the world, he added, “the marketing of food and beverages to children is becoming more and more alarming. The advertising influence among children is the biggest influence in marketing of snacks and fast food. Children have their own purchasing power known as the power of ‘pressure’. Generally, because of the power of ‘pressure’ in the hands of these children, parents are forced to buy what their children like. Therefore, familial relationships are often used as the key concept in an advertising and marketing”.

The Code on Responsible Marketing food and beverages, the minister said, “is in line with the Convention on the Rights of the Child whereby all children have rights that must be defended in giving them the opportunity to grow and develop in an environment that can nurture and encourage them to make healthier food choices to maintain healthy weight”.

With the code and its provision, the minister said that “it is hoped to provide guidance to entrepreneurs in the food and beverage industry as well as the advertising and marketing industry to create a sense of responsibility for the marketing procedures of food and beverage products, especially to children.

He believed it can be used “as a useful source of reference for policymakers and stakeholders, including schools, in regulating the marketing of food and beverages in our country”.

The minister also hoped and encouraged all stakeholders to provide their continued support for the initiative by complying with the stated principles in the code.

“The code will be implemented in phases through various advertising and marketing platforms such as print media, billboards, posters, newspapers, magazines, exhibitions, in cinemas and news websites, as well as local radio and television networks. Compliance with the code is currently voluntary. But stakeholders and vendors are strongly encouraged to comply with the code. We hope this code will be formally mandated at an appropriate time, Insya Allah,” the minister said.