On the 3rd of October 2019, the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, University of Malaya together with the School of Public Health, National University of Singapore and Institute of Health Sciences, University Brunei Darussalam jointly hosted a symposium entitled “Can national policies regulate individual eating behaviour?” This teleconference was moderated by Prof. Dr. Victor Hoe (Malaysia), Prof. Dr. Teo Yik Ying (Singapore), Dr. Nik AA Tuah (Brunei) and the panel members were Associate Prof. Dr. Hazreen Abdul Majid (Malaysia), Dr. Mary Chong (Singapore), Dr. Yvette van der Eijk (Singapore) and Dr. Norhayati (Brunei).
Singapore’s Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security Teo Chee Hean with his delegation of Ministers /political office-holders who were in Brunei for the 7th Young Leaders’ Programme (YLP), as well as Brunei’s Acting Minister of Education Datin Seri Paduka Dr Hajah Romaizah binti Haji Mohamad Salleh graced this event. Some Medical and Public Health students from the three universities participated in this symposium as well.
The first session started off with a situational sharing of the trend of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), the national food policies, strategies and regulatory measures available and its impact on health. More focus was given to the discussion of the Sugar-Sweetened Beverages (SSB) tax and other SSB related policies. Brunei introduced the SSB tax in 2017 and on the 1st of July 2019, Malaysia implemented the excise tax for three categories of sweetened beverages at RM0.40 per litre.
Implementation enablers, implementation barriers, as well as the need for multi-stakeholder cooperation and engagement were discussed in the second session. The final session explored on indicators of successful nutritional policies /taxation as mentioned below:
- Purchase pattern: Whether the taxation will change consumption patterns, which can be obtained through national nutrition surveys or certain market data.
- Reaction of the food and beverage industry: looking at the number of companies that reformulate their products.
- Improved health outcomes
Having well-designed evidence-basednutritional programmes or policies, with proper and timely monitoring and evaluation is needed in tackling the rising tide of non-communicable diseases. However, taxing unhealthy foods, drinks or products is not the only solution. It is of utmost importance to have proper political leadership, multi-stakeholder engagement, and public awareness as well as public acceptance in order to combat non-communicable diseases.
This symposium was indeed a fun, interactive session and the participants benefited from the overall discussion between the three countries. Looking forward to the next inter-country academic collaboration or discussion!
Written by Aini and Vinura (DrPH class 2018/2021)