Archive for the ‘fast food’ Category

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More on Malaysia’s proposed ban on fast food ads…

March 2, 2007

As a former journalist, let me share with you what makes a good / great newspaper story:

1. Something unusual / controversial

2. Something that affects many people

3. Something that involves huge sums of money

4. Something that involves people in power. such as politicians

5. Something close to home.

And you know a newspaper story is great if, after it gets published, there is a lof of discussion about it, in the form of letters to the editor, commentaries by learned experts, newspaper editorials, etc etc.

The news story about Malaysia’s Health Minister “seriously considering” a ban on fast food advertising has all the above elements of a great newspaper story, and more.

No other country that I know of has ever proposed anything nearly as controversial. And this is our neighbour proposing it, not some far off, obscure place like Uzbekistan.

So why are our mainstream newspaper editors unable to recognise a great story and publish it quickly? I don’t think they are dumb. It probably has to do more with Singapore’s near-bottom ranking on the press freedom index.

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Still on the subject of fast foods….

Britain’s Prince Charles advised the United Arab Emirates to ban fast foods like McDonalds. A news report on Feb 28 said:

Prince Charles suggested on Tuesday on a visit to the United Arab Emirates that banning McDonald’s fast food was crucial for improving people’s diets. Charles’s comments came while visiting the Imperial College London Diabetes Center in Abu Dhabi for the launch of a public health campaign, Britain’s Press Association news agency reported.

“Have you got anywhere with McDonald’s? Have you tried getting it banned? That’s the key,” Charles asked one of the center’s nutritionists, according to the news agency.

A McDonald’s spokeswoman called the remark disappointing. “This appears to be an off-the-cuff remark, in our opinion,” she said on condition of anonymity, in line with company practice in Britain.

Once again, this report was highlighted to me by OMK, who commented:

SG govt always say ‘better unpopular than irresponsible’. Here’s a responsible man speaking!

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Malaysia to ban fast food ads – Boleh!

February 28, 2007

There has been much talk about fast foods up in Malaysia, ever since Health Minister Dr Chua Soi Lek announced on February 17 that his Ministry was “seriously considering” a ban on fast food advertising as well as a “sin tax” on fast foods, similar to taxes on cigarettes and alcohol.

Malaysian schools might also have to stop selling fast foods.

Sorry I am late in writing about this. I didn’t know until yesterday because, as usual, the Singapore MSM (mainstream media) did not earlier report the news (and, admittedly, I don’t read the papers everyday). Finally, The Straits Times reported it yesterday, Februay 27.

Why does a major news story about our closest neighbouring country – which gets reported around the world, as far away as Taiwan and Turkey – take 10 DAYS to reach us?

Reader MKO, who had been monitoring the situation and had alerted me on the Malaysian reports yesterday, was wondering it the news would ever be published here because it would, once again, show up our Singapore health authorities as being laggards in taking action to protect the health of Singaporeans.

And he was not suprised that when the news was finally reported, it focused on the negatives – the adverse reaction from the advertising industry.

I did a brief search on the website of The Star, the Malaysian newspaper that first broke the news. And yes, there has been a lot of talk.

Not only that, there has also been a WIDESPREAD SUPPORT for the ban.

Two days after the ban was proposed, the Ministry of Information said it was willing to stop fast food advertisements from being aired on Radio Television Malaysia (RTM) stations

Information Minister Datuk Seri Zainuddin Maidin said the matter was not a question of profits as RTM, being a government body, placed more emphasis on social responsibility.

“I fully support it (banning fast food advertisements). They (fast foods) should not be promoted,” he told reporters.

Zainuddin said his support did not mean that he was against fast food companies but he feared the culture (fast food) will become worse and more difficult to tackle in future. He said that there were many other foods that could help Malaysian to be more healthy.

The Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) welcomed the proposal and its president Datuk Dr Teoh Siang Chin said the nutritional value of fast food was doubtful.

“The changing diet of ‘civilised homo sapiens’ is a contributing factor in the rise of lifestyle diseases like obesity, diabetes and hypertension. As such, the education and influence for proper dietary habits should be a continuous process in school and at home,” Dr Teoh said.

Dr Teoh added that rather than the outright banning of such advertisements, there should be a requirement that fast food companies bear a “social sin tax” to promote healthy living and eating. “This would be more palatable to the advertising and media sector and a ‘win-win’ solution,” he said.

The Consumers Association of Penang (CAP), probably Malaysia’s most active and vocal consumer group, fully supported the advertising ban.

CAP President S.M. Mohamed Idris cited one study (the Cardia study in the United States), which showed that fast-food consumption had strong positive associations with weight gain and insulin resistance, suggesting that fast food increases the risk of obesity and Type 2 diabetes.

“Prolonged exposure to fast-food advertisements can increase the chances that children select the advertised food over other options,” Mohd Idris said.

“If it were always up to the consumer to decide, there would not be the need for all these safeguards (such as restrictions on tobacco and alcohol advertisements). Even the bans on the use certain dangerous substances would then have to be questioned. Sometimes, as in this case, consumers may need added protection, as well as a conducive environment that will facilitate healthy food choices.”

FOMCA, the Federation of Malaysian Consumers Associations was supportive as well. FOMCA secretary-general Muhammad Shaani Abdullah said it was an irony that while the authorities were promoting wellness programmes, fast food adverts have become more widespread.

“Fiercer efforts by companies to advertise fast food has led to the failure of the authorities’ campaigns to promote a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle among Malaysians,” he said.

Muslim Consumers Association of Malaysia Project Director Noor Nirwandy Mat Noordin said the Health Ministry should give fast food restaurants and products labels just like the warning labels on cigarette boxes.

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Contrast all this with the situation in Singapore.

Here, we have citizens and consumers concerned about harmful food substances like trans fats but…

  • The Health Ministry and Health Promotion Board do not think the problem is serious to warrant any strong action.
  • Radio and television stations are all private corporations driven by profits, so withidrawing advertisements for the sake of social responsibility is probably out of the question.
  • Medical bodies like the Singapore Heart Foundation support the government’s position that there is no need for firm action (the one thing we have in common with Malaysia is that, well, the medical associations support the government).
  • The Consumers Association of Singapore says and does next to nothing on such issues. And we just found on in the Lianhe Zaobao report on Sunday that Case actually conducted a study on trans fats in 2004, but decided not to release the report as the government did not air the issue at that time.

Sigh… Singapore tak boleh!

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Footnote: For non-Malaysian / non-Singaporean readers, “boleh” means “can” and it refers to a popular Malaysian slogan, “Malaysia boleh” meaning “Malaysia can do”. “Tak boleh” means cannot.

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Pork lard did not make Okinawans fat & sick

February 4, 2007

A report in The Straits Times on Friday tells us that the people of Okinawa, Japan – famed for their longevity and good heatlh – are getting fat and sick. Half the men and a quater of the women there are now overweight or obese. Diabetes is on the rise.

The reason for this? GIs’ diet of American-style barbeque, hambugers and soda.

After the Second World War, the US established a military base there and brought along 36,000 troops and over 100 fast food restaurants including McDonald’s, KFC and A&W. Okinawa even spawned its own fast food chain, MOS Burger.

And so today, the people of Okinawa eat at fast food restaurants up to three times a week, compared to the average Japanese who eats Western style fast foods only once a week.

Before 1945, however, Okinawans consumed mostly fish, soybeans, seaweed, vegetables. tofu and pork.

The report cited 100-year-old Ms Shizu Miyagi, who retains her traditional diet and… “often invites friends home to share a lunch of stewed pork leg, potatoes, rice and red beans.”

Pork leg is, of course, full of fat – saturated fat. In fact, the people of Okinawa cook mainly with pork lard. Yet all that saturated fat and cholesterol did not clog up their arteries. It did not give them heart disease, diabetes or other degenerative diseases, it did not even make them fat!

So what has changed?

Is it because they are now eating beef (in hamburgers) instead of pork? That’s not the likely reason. The Koreans eat lots of beef, yet they, too, are relatively healthy with low rates of heart disease, cancer and obesity.

And it is not just the Okinawans or Koreans who lead healthy lives on a diet with plenty of saturated fat and cholesterol. The French too. And the Greeks, Swiss, Austrians… The extreme case would be the Masai of Africa. They eat only meat, blood and milk. No grains and veggies in their diet. Yet they, too, are healthy and free from degenerative diseases.

So what is it in the American fast food diet that makes people fat and sick?

A more likely culprit is the soda – incredible amounts of sugar in there. Another is, of course, the harmful trans fats present in the hydrogenated oils used by fast food restaurants for frying.

But I would say it is not any one element in the American diet that younger Okinawans have adopted. Rather, it is the entire system of preparing food US-style, a system that is highly processed, highly chemicalised and highly artificial.

Americans get themselves sick by consuming industrial “food”. But they cannot see their own mistakes and folly, so their scientists blame saturated fats and cholesterol, completely ignoring the fact that other cultures enjoy excellent health and longevity on a diet rich in saturated fats and cholesterol.

It is sad that the rest of the world is increasingly adopting the Standard American Diet (SAD).

But the greater tragedy is that learned scientists, doctors and health authorities all over the world – including Singapore – have all blindly embraced the American theory that saturated fats and cholesterol make people fat and sick.

Can’t our scientists, doctors and health authorities think for themselves? Seems that all they do is swallow.