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.
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!
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.