Early in 2009 Datuk Shahrir Abdul Samad the former Minister of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs announced that Malaysia is the 8th highest sugar users in the world.
In the 1970s, Malaysians consumed about 17 teaspoons of sugar a day. This figure went up to about 21 teaspoons a day in the 1980s. By the 1990s Malaysians were consuming an average of 24 teaspoons of sugar per day but now the figure has jumped to 26 teaspoons.
Sugar is a very widely eaten nutrient-free food which, unfortunately, is not generally seen as a dangerous substance. Sugar is totally unnecessary from the physiological point of view. According to the World Health Organisation journals, it is not necessary to have even an ounce of sugar in the diet.
Professor John Yudkin, author of the highly acclaimed book on the hazards of sugar, Pure, White and Deadly agrees. In his opinion, “All human nutritional needs can be met in full without having a single spoon of sugar, white or brown, on its own or in any drink or food.” In other words, sugar is not a necessity in our diet.
Sugar has been linked to over 60 ailments from cancer, diabetes, obesity, heart problems, osteoporosis and kidney problems to asthma and allergies. Some of these killer diseases are showing worrying upward trends in just a few years.
According to the Health Ministry’s statistics, 11.6 million of the 16 million adults nationwide are sick with a non-communicable disease like diabetes, hypertension or cancer.
Malaysia has the most overweight and obese people in Asia. 54% of the adult population is either obese or overweight, compared to only 24.1% 10 years ago. As a result, 7 out of 10 Malaysian adults suffer from chronic diseases.
For example, according to the International Diabetes Institute, Malaysia has the 4th highest number of diabetics in Asia. From 800,000 recorded diabetics in 2007, the number is expected to increase to 1.3 million in 2010.
In the first National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS) carried out in 1986, the prevalence of diabetes was 6.3%. The figure increased to 8.3% in 1996 and the latest 2006 NHMS revealed that the diabetes prevalence has increased to 14.9%.
Diabetes and end stage renal failure are already a big health problem in Malaysia. It is estimated that there are 13,000 kidney patients undergoing dialysis and every year 2,500 people join the ranks of end-stage renal failure patients.
Another major health concern is that 4 out of 5 people with diabetes will die of heart disease (the number 1 killer in the country). 6 new cases of stroke occur every hour in Malaysia.
Most people find it hard to believe or accept that they can be consuming an average of 26 teaspoons of sugar a day. That is because we may be thinking only of the “visible” white sugar we see and buy for use at home. However, an increasing amount of sugar consumed by the public is in industrially-prepared drinks and food.
Some soft drinks contain an average of at least 7 teaspoons of sugar per can. CAP surveys noted a number of the commercial drinks and food contained over 10 teaspoons of sugar in just one serving. Consumers are often unaware of how much sugar they consume in total in a day.
In view of the alarming health condition Malaysians are facing, urgent action needs to be taken to curb our national sugar consumption.
CAP calls on the Government to:
- Work with manufacturers to reduce sugar in their products.
- Require manufacturers to amend their labels to clearly indicate the amount of sugar in their food. In order for consumers to understand the information, the sugar content could be shown graphically in terms of the number of teaspoons of sugar. (One teaspoon is approximately equivalent to 5g).
- Institute “traffic light” labelling to enhance consumer awareness. This has been effective in enabling consumers to assess the significance of nutrient levels within a particular product, and allows for comparison between products. Under this scheme, red, orange and green colour coding would indicate whether the levels of these ingredients of concern are high, medium or low. The presence of the red, orange or green signals on food packaging would serve as an instant notice for consumers - even children or those with limited nutritional knowledge or numerical skills would easily be able to comprehend these signals.
- Stop the advertisements of highly-sugared and other junk food and drinks during children’s television viewing hours.
- Educate school children on the dangers of excessive sugar intake through health education, home science and cooking lessons. Educate the public on the dangers of sugar intake through the media.
- Encourage children to avoid sweet drinks in schools by providing drinking water in water dispensers around school premises. Sweet drinks should not be sold in canteens so that children learn to select water as a first-choice drink.
- Ban the sale of junk food in school canteens and food hawking within a fixed perimeter around schools so that schoolchildren are not tempted to purchase unhealthy food.
- Initiate the removal of vending machines dispensing junk food and sugary drinks from areas such as hospitals, airports and schools. Instead, provide drinking water in water dispensers at these places.
- Launch a massive campaign in the mass media to educate the public on the ill effects of sugar.
Read more about the destructive effects of sugar in the CAP Guide, How Sugar Destroys Your Health