We are the top country in ASEAN for having the highest number of diabetics and sixth in the Western Pacific region.
The prevalence rate of the disease in Malaysia had shot up alarmingly. It was 1-2% in 1960, 6.3% in 1985, 8.3% in 1996, 14.9 % in 2006 and in 2011 showed that 15.2% of Malaysian adults were diabetic. An alarming 3.6 million adults are estimated to be diabetics; this means that Malaysians had surpassed the World Health Organization’s forecast of 807,000 diabetics in 2025.
The high incidence of diabetes can be linked to our high consumption of sugar. Sugar makes us fat and obese people have a high risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
Malaysians consume 26 teaspoons of sugar daily, making us the eighth highest sugar users in the world.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) in its campaign against obesity had recommended a sugar consumption limit of 5 teaspoons full daily.
For Malaysians to be healthy and achieve the WHO sugar consumption limit of 5 teaspoons full (tsp) daily, we will need to reduce our sugar intake by 80%, from the current level of 26 tsp to 5 tsp of sugar.
It is however NOT easy for Malaysians to reduce their consumption of sugar to the healthy level. We simply take too much processed foods which are overloaded with sugar. The sugar in processed foods is hidden from public awareness.
For example, each can of cola or other soft drink contains between 7-8 tsp of sugar which is 1.4-1.6X above the WHO limit of 5 tsp per day. The consumption of just a single can of soft drink would have broken the WHO daily sugar limit. What if you add the sugar consumed during the whole day?
More examples of hidden sugar in processed foods:
· A bottle of soft drink has 12 tsp sugar (2.4X WHO limit);
· Small chocolate bar has 6-9 tsp sugar (1.2-1.8X WHO limit);
· Infant cereal (350gm) has 22.8 tsp sugar (4.6X WHO limit);
· Children’s breakfast cereal (220gm) has 15.4 tsp sugar (3X WHO limit);
· Cocoa malt drink (500gm) has 45.5 tsp or 40% sugar (9.1X WHO limit);
· Malted milk drink (350gm) has 23.5 tsp sugar (4.7X WHO limit);
· Bottle of isotonic drink has 4.5 tsp sugar (0.9X WHO limit).
As it can be seen from the above examples, a lot of sugar is added to processed foods for taste and also as a preservative. It is beyond the control of consumers as to how much sugar is added to processed foods. The best thing to do is to avoid processed foods to reduce our sugar intake.
It is not necessary to have even an ounce of sugar in the diet as the carbohydrates we consume ultimately breaks down into glucose. Excessive sugar in our body is converted to glycogen which when unused is converted to fat.
According to Professor John Yudkin, author of Pure, White and Deadly, “All human nutritional needs can be met without a single spoon of sugar, white or brown, on its own or in any other food”.
Diabetes does not only take a toll on the country’s resources, but also on the limbs (amputation), eyesight (blindness), kidney (failure), heart (failure) and nerve (damage) of its sufferers.
Diabetes is a chronic disease that can be prevented and for those affected, diabetes can be managed to delay or prevent its complications by maintaining a healthy lifestyle and making better choices in their diet.
In view of the alarming rate of diabetes among Malaysians urgent action needs to be taken to curb our national sugar consumption
The Consumers Association of Penang urges the authorities to:
- Ban the use of High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), a cheap and unhealthy substitute for refined sugar, in food products.
Require manufacturers to avoid or reduce sugar in their products.
- Amend labelling laws to make manufacturers change their labels to clearly indicate the amount of sugar in their food by showing the number of teaspoon full of sugar in their foods.
- Stop the advertisements of high-sugared and other junk food and drinks during children’s television viewing hours.
- 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 dangers of diabetes.
· Make it compulsory or food manufacturers to place warning labels on products that contain sugar.
· Consumers should reduce their sugar consumption by avoiding processed foods especially soft drinks – which are also called “liquid candy” in the West.