Singapore is worried about obesity, with 11% of the population considered obese under world standards compared to a 17% world average (which includes countries suffering from famine) and 35% in the U.S.
Singapore plans to restrict advertising for “unhealthy” food and drink aimed at children, as countries across Asia grow increasingly concerned about obesity rates.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said “obesity rates are going up . . . with more fast foods and sedentary occupations” even as more Singaporeans are exercising and fewer are smoking.
It seems odd that they’re focusing on advertising to children when it’s adult behavior identified as a key area of concern:
Singapore has seen a rise in obesity as people increasingly eat fatty foods. About 60 per cent of Singaporeans eat out four times a week or more, mostly in “hawker stalls” and food courts scattered across the city state that sell cheap dishes based on rice and noodles that are often heavy on cooking oil.
Though they do want to ‘do something’ about the stalls as well,
The government has been working with food stall owners to cut the amount of oil and salt used in cooking and persuade them to use brown rice, considered healthier than polished white rice.
Of course, for many of the traditional dishes, the high fat and calorie content was the point, they were cheap ways of feeding laborers. The archetypical example of this is char kway teow, a staple of the hawker stalls today:
On my previous subject of biases, I proudly declare mine here. Traditional Singaporean food, prepared by specialist stalls and sold inexpensively, is one of the world’s great treasures.
My own favorite hawker center is the East Coast Lagoon Village because it pairs the food concept with an open air location on the beach.
And the food? Delicious.
On the one hand, the government actually promotes food stalls, they regular their location but also subsidize rents. On the other the government is beginning to express preferences as to what the occupants of those hawker stalls actually serve. It’s not surprising, and the government wields significant influence generally but through their subsidies and certifications they can exercise as much as they wish.
But there’s few examples of more competitive businesses — large numbers of stalls in a concentrated area, it’s easy to choose and there’s good information on quality, the stalls vigorously work to outdo each other on quality to meet the demands on well-informed consumers. If customers desire brown rice they’ll certainly be provided. And a hadful of stalls giving customers what they don’t want to curry favor with the government will lose tremendous business. So it’s only if the government forces all the stalls to cook contrary to consumer preferences that change will take place.
And a great national treasure — which I admittedly take advantage of perhaps no more than once a year, living a world away — will be greatly diminished.