The Malaysian Health Ministry (MOH) launched the Sugar Reduction Advocacy Campaign 2023 in an effort to reduce the harm diabetes has inflicted upon the nation.
On October 29, 2023, Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa announced that various initiatives are being rolled out as part of the campaign and is intended to open the eyes of Malaysians to the dangers of excessive sugar consumption and diabetes.
The Current State of Malaysian Diabetics
The Malaysian National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS) 2019 reports that at least 1 in 2 Malaysian adults is overweight and 1 in 5 Malaysian adults are diabetic. Nationwide, we have observed an increase in the rate of diabetics. In 2011, records showed 11.2% of Malaysians had diabetes, and this number rose to 18.3% in 2019.
In 2017, RM4.38 billion was spent on managing diabetes nationwide. This was a significant increase when compared to RM2.01 billion in 2011. This situation places a huge burden on the country’s economy, besides leading to reduced workforce productivity due to poor individual health.
Is Sugar Good or Bad? Risk Of Diabetes
Sugar is only bad when taken in excess. Moderate sugar consumption can serve as an easily accessible energy source. We use white sugar, or granulated sugar, as a carbohydrate to enhance the taste of many foods and drinks. People also use sugar in baking and brewing. During brewing, yeast consumes the sugar and releases alcohol and carbon dioxide through fermentation.
Some companies may add vitamins and minerals to processed sugar to create fortified sugar products. It is important to note, however, that excess consumption of fortified sugar products can still cause adverse health effects. You shouldn’t rely on fortified sugar as a primary source of essential vitamins and minerals.
Strong Evidence Supports Reducing Sugars From Sweetened Beverages
There is substantial peer-reviewed evidence that correlates sugars from sweetened beverages to adverse health outcomes. Studies that focused on the impact of sugars from solid foods on metabolic and endocrine health have generally been inconclusive. Consuming a lot of liquid sugars is linked to a higher BMI and larger waist circumference. But there’s no established connection with solid sugar. In fact, high intake of liquid sugar has been linked to all-cause mortality, not solid sugar.
This does not mean that we should not be wary of solid sugars, but instead, we should be aware that smaller amounts of liquid sugar can cause similar issues to consuming large amounts of solid sugar.
How Will The Campaign Help?
Dr Zaliha shared that many food stall operators in Putrajaya have joined in on the campaign. These vendors have agreed to only use one teaspoon of sugar for each drink ordered. Malaysians often consume large amounts of liquid sugar mixed with condensed milk. While this might seem small, its impact is likely far-reaching.
Dr Zaliha praised the vendors involved and hoped that other food operators would follow suit. ‘’State authorities are also expected to implement sugar reduction efforts at the state level, focusing on beverage vendors at stalls and food courts with the cooperation of local authorities,” shared Dr. Zaliha.
Dr Zaliha also emphasised that excess sugar intake can lead to weight gain, diabetes, and tooth decay and increase the risk of developing other non-communicable diseases.
Call for Action
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that sugar consumption should only make up 10% of an individual’s daily calorie requirement. This means that for an individual with a 1,500 calories per day requirement, the sugar intake should not exceed 7.5 teaspoons of sugar a day. This includes sugar consumed from cakes, snacks and beverages.
Dr Zaliha encouraged Malaysians to be cautious of pre-cooked and pre-packaged food and drinks. Many of these products, especially drinks such as carbonated drinks, cordials/syrups and sweetened tea/coffee.
It is important to note that moderation is key and that prevention is better than cure. Indulging ourselves once in a while is completely understandable. We should, however, be responsible about it. After all, our healthcare system can only do so much if we, the Malaysian people, do not do our part.