In 2013, the average sugar intake per person in Malaysia was 153.9g. This is more than 3 times the 50g daily sugar intake recommendation from the World Health Organisation and Malaysian Dietary Guidelines.
So how is sugar bad?
While sugar is not the only cause of nutrition-related health issues, Malaysia’s higher than the recommended consumption of sugar is a cause for concern. Any excess sugar and carbohydrates consumed (broken down into simpler sugar by the body) over the dietary energy expenditure is converted into fats. An excessive amount of fats will interfere with the body’s ability to control blood sugar and other important functions, leading to the incidence of obesity and diabetes.
With increasingly sedentary lifestyles and the high levels of sugar consumed, obesity is a plausible outcome and might risk other cardiovascular and non-communicable diseases, such as type 2 diabetes. Currently, Malaysia is the fattest country in Southeast Asia and diabetes is growing at a tremendous rate.
Sugar intake of children The study examined the dietary intake in children aged 36 to 71 months. It was found that the total energy intake from sugar was almost three times the WHO recommended amount – as can be seen from the below graph. The results are shown below.
Sugar intake by Ethnicity One study showed that sugar consumption varied by ethnicity, with Malays having the highest amount, slightly ahead of Indian Malaysians.
Sugar intake by gender
A study on intakes of sugar and foods with added sugar among 168 adults attending a university dental clinic found that men consumed significantly more sugar than women.
Where do we consume most of our added sugars from?
Sugar source of children A study among pre-schoolers aged 5 to 6 years found that 46% consumed sugary drinks and 30% consumed sugary foods more than 3 times a day.
As for schoolchildren, the survey on eating habits of 1405 primary school children aged 9 to 10 years in Selangor state found that 91% drank canned/bottled drinks weekly. Of these, 10.5% ingested such drinks more than 4 times a week.
Sugar source of Adults A similar study indicates that sweetened beverages are commonly consumed by adults. Intake patterns among 240 Malaysian medical students showed that 71% of subjects consumed soft drinks weekly as snacks.
Sugar and specifically sugary drinks seem to be one of the major causes of the overweight and obesity epidemic in Malaysia.
So, how is this being tackled?
Sugar tax to change behaviour?
The World Health Organisation has been vocal in its support for a sugary drink tax, having publicly urged all countries last year to consider levying such a tax to curb soaring obesity rates, especially in children.
The question is, how effective will a sugar tax actually be. If the tax is high enough it may make it unaffordable for poorer sections of society. However, Malaysia is a society where incomes are on the rise, a tax is a good option for the taxman but does little to tackle sugar addiction.
At Vircle we think sugar tax alone is not the answer, especially in a society where incomes are increasing. The problem is sugar addiction – we have to prevent addiction to sugar, fast food and other unhealthy food from occurring in the first place.
Hence, Vircle’s focus on making food a foundation for a successful life. We do this through technology designed to help parents and schools nurture good eating and purchasing behaviours while children are still young and learning. If good food behaviours and habits can be set at an early age, children will live longer, healthier, brighter and more responsible lives.
Prevention is better than cure.