Take steps to reduce diabetes in children

The Consumers Association of Penang calls on the relevant authorities to take immediate step to reduce diabetes in children.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has reported that type 2 diabetes has increasingly been reported in children and adolescents, and in some parts of the world type that 2 diabetes has become the main type of diabetes in children. The global rise of childhood obesity and physical inactivity is widely believed to play a contributing factor to the situation.

 

 

Malaysia is not spared from this problem as more young people, some as young as seven, are suffering from Type 2 diabetes (T2D) and the figure is currently on the rising trend. This is due to the spike in the rate of obesity which is related to bad eating habits.

This is not surprising as statistics on public health have revealed an alarming rise in obesity cases among children. According to a survey, it was found that one in every five children is overweight or obese.

Studies have showed that childhood obesity levels in Malaysia are higher than in most Asian countries. Data from various research groups have indicated that as many as 15% of toddlers and preschool children in the country could be overweight and obese. Among primary school children, 30% of them could be overweight and obese. These statistics are not surprising as overweight children and youngsters are a common sight at public places.

Children today are exposed to many lifestyle factors that influence their eating habits. Parents can shape dietary habits and educate their children on the importance of good nutrition from an early age. They should also set a good example by practicing good dietary habits themselves, as the rising cases of child obesity could be attributed to the poor dietary habits of their parents.

It is estimated that some 40 % of obesity cases among children were due to parental lifestyle choices such as taking the children to eat out at night. The situation is further exacerbated with the proliferation of 24-hour stalls and fast food restaurants across the country in recent years.

When children are exposed to an unbalanced diet from a young age, they will learn to accept it as a norm and make it into a habit for life. An inclination towards food high in calories, fat, sodium and sugar can contribute to health problems such as obesity.

Children who are overweight or obese face an increased risk of developing serious health conditions like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol – all once considered exclusively adult diseases.

According to the Malaysian Mental Health Association, in addition to medical problems, obese or overweight children may also suffer psychological problems such as low self-esteem that stems from being teased or bullied by peers, develop unhealthy dieting habits and eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia, be more prone to depression or are at risk for substance abuse.

There is no single cause of childhood obesity; instead it is a combination of various factors, such as lifestyle, environment, genetics, antibiotics and toxic chemicals called obesogens.

According to experts, the “fat phenomenon” in our country can be attributed to a combination of poor eating habits, a diet high in calories, and a decline in physical activity, resulting in more caloric intake than is required by the body.

Furthermore, too much screen time (TV, computers and smart phones) has also contributed to children’s sedentary lifestyles. Children now spend less time being physically active during school as well as at home. There has been an immense change over the years in children’s entertainment; from physical or outdoor activities to indoor computer games and television. To further compound this problem, there are not many safe or conducive places to play or be active outdoors, especially in urban areas.

Diabetes is one of the most common chronic conditions to affect children. It is linked to obesity

It can strike children of any age even toddlers and babies. If not detected early in a child, diabetes can be fatal or it may result in serious brain damage. Yet diabetes in a child is often completely overlooked it is often misdiagnosed as the flu or not diagnosed at all.

As today is World Diabetes Day, CAP would like to call on the relevant authorities to take immediate action to address the growing obesity problem among the young as obesity will lead to diabetes and many diseases including cancer in their adulthood. These measures should include:

—         Ban vending machines in schools, hospitals and other public places

—         Mandate clear labeling on fat content of all foods, including fast foods

—         Run education  campaign for parents and children  on the dangers of  obesity and diabetes

Provide adequate recreational amenities in all residential areas.

—         Tax junk food that has high sugar and fat content.

Parents should inculcate good eating habits among children at the same time they should spend quality time with their children by involving themselves in more physical activities.

 

 

Press Release, 12th November 2015

 

Test Loom Bands and Clear Confusion

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As of late there has been a lot of conflicting news in circulation about loom band and phthalates – a harmful chemical commonly found in plastic products. Looms bands have become a nationwide craze; popular among children and adults alike. Therefore it is a concern for us, the Consumer’s Association of Penang, that there are such contradictory reports on whether or not loom bands are safe. We believe it is crucial that all loom bands be tested and the results of said test be released to the public so consumers may know what is safe and what is not.

The loom band product was first created in the United States, under the brand name Rainbow Loom, where it quickly increased in popularity and soon become a worldwide phenomenon. Recently though, loom bands have been banned in the United Kingdom due to high levels of phthalates detected in the loom bands. Toys in many counties are only allowed to contain 0.1% phthalates but many brands of loom bands in the market were found to contain from up to 40% – 50% phthalates. It is important to note that loom bands that contain high levels of phthalates are cheap no name copycats.

Nevertheless, while the United Kingdom has banned loom bands because of the high level of phthalates in copycat loom bands, our Director General of Health, Datuk Dr. Noor Hisham Bin Abdullah, says that any safety hazard risk involving loom bands only apply to young children who chew and suck on the loom bands for extended periods of time. He further states that there is no safety hazard risk for older children and adults and concerns about skin coming into contact with loom bands is unnecessary. There is no need to ban loom bands because they are not classified as toys in Malaysia but are accessories or costume jewellery; nonetheless parents should keep loom bands away from children ages 4 years and below.

We can clearly see that there is no conclusive take on the safety of loom bands in general and this is scary because the chemical that it contains, phthalates, is harmful when large quantities of it are present in the body. Many studies have been carried out to determine the possible effects of phthalates on human beings and the results have shown that many conditions can be linked to the presence of phthalates in people. Some of the conditions include childhood obesity, allergies, damage to the liver and testes, a higher risks of developing diabetes in adulthood, low birth weight in infants, symptoms of ADHD, breast cancer and impaired male reproductive development to name a few. In short, phthalates are carcinogenic, mutagenic and can cause endocrine disruption and a variety of reproductive issues.

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While sifting through this jumble of inconsistent information there were a few things that stood out to us and they are that:

1. Most of the loom bands in circulation in Malaysia are the same type of loom bands that were being sold in other countries like the United Kingdom which has now banned loom bands. They are no name cheap imitations that can be bought at minimal costs and the likelihood of a product that is made cheaply containing high levels of harmful chemicals is usually very high.

2. The packaging of most of the loom bands sold in Malaysia are not in the local language. Products sold here must be properly labelled in the local language so that consumers can make informed decisions on possible purchases. People should know certain things before they purchase a product such as if there are any allergens present, what chemicals are present in the product, if there are any warnings that need to be heeded and where the product is made.

3. The loom band product was originally created and marketed as a toy in the US, therefore the whole world recognises loom bands as toys. Since it was intended to be a toy, why are we not labelling it a toy like all the other countries? If Malaysia did the same, loom bands would fall under the Mandatory Safety Standards for Toys 2010 and there would be no confusion as to the safety of the product.

In light of all this we would like to stress the following:

— The Ministry of Health to conduct test on all loom bands in the market and to release the results to the public to abate the current confusion.
— That loom bands be withdrawn from the market until they have been found to be safe.
— We caution parents and children to not buy ready-made loom bands or loom band kits until the safety status of the product is no longer dubious.

Letter to the Press, 23 September 2014

Introducing “language of cigarette” to children

New tricks to attract children into becoming future smokers
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While efforts are being made to curb smoking menace worldwide, there are some ill forces which are going all way out to break this effort.
 
A survey conducted by CAP shows products resembling popular brands of cigarettes, targeting children are sold in the market.

CAP official bought sweets named “LOVECIGA CANDY” in red and green packaging which looks exactly like popular brand of cigarette.  The word “medium” which is normally seen in cigarettes boxes is printed on this packaging.  
 
Another packaging with the name “CIGARETTE NOTEPAPER” sold as stationery contains few papers in the box. A ring is attached inside the box to roll these papers into a cigarette shape.  Instruction on how to roll and attach the ring is given.  The rolled note paper looks exactly like cigarette stick.  Children tend to put the rolled paper in their mouth and imitate the action of a smoker.   The label on packaging carries words such as:  “lowered tar & nicotine”, “tobacco seriously damages health”, “State express” and “lights”.  These words have no relevance with the content and yet printed on the box.  Clearly, these words have hidden motive of introducing the “language of cigarette” to children.
 
Another packaging which contains four chocolate bars is designed like a mega size cigarette in 16 cm length and 3 cm diameter with colours of cigarette sticks.
 
All these products are imported from Korea and easily available in toy and gift shops.
 
Children are unconsciously compelled to see a packaging which looks similar to cigarette packets.  Anything that is introduced at tender age makes children believe that it is acceptable and agreeable in their life.  Bearing this in mind, companies and traders are being very creative in introducing products which look like cigarettes and cigarette packets.  This will increase the chances of these children into becoming future smokers.  
 
Tobacco use is one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced.  There are more than one billion smokers in the world.
 
•    Globally, use of tobacco products is increasing, although it is decreasing in high-income countries.

•    Almost half of the world's children breathe air polluted by tobacco smoke.

•    Tobacco use kills 5.4 million people a year – an average of one person every six seconds – and accounts for one in 10 adult deaths worldwide.

•    Tobacco kills up to half of all users.

It is a risk factor for six of the eight leading causes of deaths in the world.

•    100 million deaths were caused by tobacco in the 20th century. If current trends continue, there will be up to one billion deaths in the 21st century.

•    Unchecked, tobacco-related deaths will increase to more than eight million a year by 2030, and 80% of those deaths will occur in the developing world.
 
Smoking habit has reached an alarming proportion in Malaysia.  Statistics shows 50 to 70 children from the age group of 12-18 starts smoking everyday.

Tobacco use is a leading cause of preventable illness and death in Malaysia. There are more than 6,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke.  Smoking has been universally accepted as one of the leading causes of cancer. Based on government hospital statistics, lung cancer is the most common form of cancer among males. One of the main causes of lung cancer is the use of tobacco.

Smoking causes at least about 10,000 deaths a year, not to mention the enormous costs of treating tobacco related diseases which run into billions of ringgit.
 
If efforts are not taken to curb the production and sale of products targeting children into becoming smokers, then all moves to reduce the number of smokers in future will go waste.
 
Meanwhile CAP urges the relevant authorities to take action against the traders who introduce such products in market.

Press Statement – 7 May 2014

Act now to protect the health of our school kids

The Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) is simply perturbed to read the report that the "Guidelines on Management of School Canteens" (Panduan Pengurusan Kantin Sekolah) is being violated and that unhealthy food such as sweets, pickled food (jeruk), snacks containing artificial flavouring and artificial colouring are still being sold inspite of it clearly being not permitted.

The problem of unhealthy food being sold in school canteens is not new. For some years now this problem has been brought to the attention of the relevant authorities, but CAP's efforts in calling for a healthier young generation has fallen on deaf ears. The Guidelines states that food containing excess sugar, salt and fats, instant noodles, ice confectionaries, artificially-coloured drinks, flavoured drinks, tea and coffee, and fizzy drinks are not encouraged.
 

In addition, these guidelines also provide clear pointers for canteen food operators on how to prepare food that has less sugar, salt and fat; and also the importance of including high-fibre foods in their servings. There is no excuse for the canteen operators to plead ignorance.
 
For many years now, CAP has been highlighting that unhealthy food and drinks are being sold in and around schools, but the problem still persists. We have brought to the attention of the Ministry of Health that some schools in Penang were selling "fast foods" like nuggets and fries and a host of junk food and drink which was highly coloured, sugared or salted, or contained too much preservative,

A study conducted by Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia had also shown that children are eating items such as fried chicken, fries, chocolates, ice-cream, carbonated drinks, cream biscuits and jeruk in schools.

All these findings clearly show that canteen operators are openly flouting the Guidelines without fear of action being taken.

CAP calls on the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education authorities to act swiftly to halt the sale of unhealthy food and drink to schoolchildren. Stiff penalties should be imposed on canteen stall operators who refuse to cooperate.

Junk food can be substituted with traditional food dishes like nasi lemak, meehoon, noodle soup, thosai, idli, chapatti and uppuma, but these foods need to be prepared in a healthy manner. The oil and salt that is used to prepare these dishes should be used sparingly. Canteen operators should also ensure an ample supply of fresh fruit.

Fizzy drinks and other sweetened, coloured drinks can be immediately replaced with plain drinking water. Water fountains or dispensers could be placed in school compounds and canteens to encourage children to drink water.

To ensure compliance by all concerned, the relevant sections of the Guidelines on Management of School Canteen should be converted into law to allow the authorities more enforcement powers. The list of foods that are "not encouraged" under the Guidelines should be moved to the banned list and prohibited by law.

The Education Ministry and the Ministry of Health should also work hand in hand with the Local Government to immediately halt the practice of food being sold outside school grounds. A fixed radius or buffer zone can be set around each school where hawkers are barred from carrying out their business.

 

How caffeine affects children

caffeineMost of your parents wouldn't dream of giving you a cup of coffee, but they may readily give you soft drinks containing caffeine.  Though soft drinks may be tasty and sweet, it's a good idea to keep caffeine consumption to a minimum, especially if you are young.

Although there are no guidelines in Malaysia, Canada recommend that preschool children get no more than 45 milligrams of caffeine a day. That's equivalent to the average amount of caffeine found in a 355-milliliter (12-ounce) can of cola soft drink, or four 43-gram milk chocolate bars. An 8-ounce energy drinks has more caffeine – 80 mg and caffeine is found even in some carbonated fruit soft-drinks.

Caffeine is a stimulant found in coffee, tea, cocoa and in cola, diet, energy and other soft drinks. Caffeine is a drug that's naturally produced in the leaves and seeds of many plants. Caffeine is also made artificially and added to certain foods. Caffeine is defined as a drug because it stimulates the central nervous system. At lower levels, caffeine can make people feel more alert and like they have more energy.

In both kids and adults, too much caffeine can cause:

  •  jitteriness and nervousness
  •  upset stomach
  •  headaches
  •  difficulty concentrating
  •  difficulty sleeping
  •  increased heart rate
  •  increased blood pressure

Especially in young children, it doesn't take a lot of caffeine to produce these effects.

Other reasons to limit kids' caffeine consumption include:

  •  Consuming one 355-milliliter sweetened soft drink per day increases a child's risk of obesity by 60%.
  •  Not only do caffeinated beverages contain empty calories (calories that don't provide any nutrients), but kids who fill up on them don't get the vitamins and minerals they need from healthy sources, putting them at risk for developing nutritional deficiencies. In particular, children who drink too much soda (which usually starts between the third and eighth grades) may miss getting the calcium they need from milk to build strong bones and teeth.
  • Drinking too many sweetened caffeinated drinks could lead to dental cavities (or caries) from the high sugar content and the erosion of the enamel of the teeth from the acidity. Not convinced that sodas can wreak that much havoc on kids' teeth? Consider this: One 355-milliliter non-diet, carbonated soft drink contains the equivalent of 10 teaspoons of sugar.
  •  Caffeine is a diuretic that causes the body to eliminate water (through urinating), which may contribute to dehydration. Caffeine may be an especially poor choice in hot weather, when children need to replace water lost through perspiration.
  •  Abruptly stopping caffeine may cause withdrawal symptoms (headaches, muscle aches, temporary depression, and irritability), especially for those who are used to consuming a lot.
  •  Caffeine can aggravate heart problems or nervous disorders, and some children may not be aware that they're at risk.
Which Foods and Beverages Contain Caffeine?

Although kids get most of their caffeine from cola, diet, energy and some other soft drinks, it's also found in coffee, tea, chocolate, coffee ice cream and some other foods. Some parents may give their children iced tea in place of soda, thinking that it's a better alternative. But iced tea can contain as much sugar and caffeine as cola soft drinks.

Cutting Out Caffeine

 
The best way to cut caffeine (and added sugar) from your child's diet is to eliminate cola soft drinks. Instead, drink water, barley, lime or other 100% fruit juice.

Find out more about how caffeine can affect your children in the CAP Guide, How Toxic Is Your Cup Of Coffee?