Thirst for bottled water growing in Singapore

Consumers spent $134 million on it in 2015, but health benefits are not proven
ABIGAIL NG, THE STRAITS TIMES New Paper 16 May 17;

Getting clean water in Singapore is as easy as turning on the tap, yet retail outlets are awash with brands of bottled water.

Data from research firm Euro-monitor International showed that the thirst for bottled water is growing here. Consumers spent $134 million on it in 2015 - nearly 24 per cent more than in 2010.

At least 12 brands of bottled water are sold here, and more have recently been added to the shelves, with two brands of alkaline water introduced at Sheng Siong last year.

Alkaline water has higher than usual pH levels and is touted to have health benefits, though these are not proven.

As brands come up with new ways to make their products stand out, the question is: Do their marketing claims hold water? And ultimately, should one be drinking bottled water at all?

Experts said there are differences in the sources and treatment processes, but it is difficult to say if one is better than another.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) regulates the import of bottled water and, based on the source of the water and the way it was treated, classifies brands into five types - natural mineral water, packaged drinking water, mineralised drinking water, distilled water and spring water.

Dr Wuang Shy Chyi, domain lead for water technology at Temasek Polytechnic's School of Applied Science, said each type of water comes with its own set of claims.

For example, due to the natural sources, mineral water can contain trace amounts of elements. Some, like arsenic, can be beneficial in tiny quantities, but others may not be good for the body.

"Some minerals, like fluoride, may also be present in quantities that are not acceptable to certain groups of people," Dr Wuang said. They include infants and young children, who get fluoride in tap water.

STUDY

A 2012 Harvard School of Public Health study found that children in high-fluoride areas had much lower IQ scores than those in low-fluoride areas.

Dr Wuang added that more awareness of each type of drinking water can help "consumers make informed choices".

Associate Professor Richard Webster from Nanyang Technological University's School of Physical and Mathematical Sciences said water marketed as artisan or untouched by humans is not better.

"It is just a marketing gimmick," he said. "There is no real difference from other bottled water."

The benefits of a new entrant - water with added oxygen - are unproven, he added.

"We get enough oxygen from breathing air, so adding it to water will not make any difference," he said.

Home-grown water treatment specialist Hyflux is working with Changi General Hospital to see if its oxygenated Elo Water can help diabetics achieve better glycaemic control.

For the consumer, however, price appears to be the main criterion in choosing bottled water.

A FairPrice spokesman said sales for the budget range of bottled water has increased.

Similarly, at Sheng Siong, the cheapest bottled water is the most popular.

According to national water agency PUB, tap water can be 1,000 times cheaper than bottled water - a 600ml bottle of drinking water costs between 50 cents and $1, while tap water costs 0.1 cent for the same amount.

Giving his assessment of the tap water here, Dr Webster said: "It is better than what is available in many other countries."

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