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Dialogue session participants suggest alternative measures to cut sugar intake

21 Jan 2019

Based on last year’s National Nutrition Survey by the Health Promotion Board, Singaporeans take an average of 60g of sugar a day, which is higher than the 50g limit recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).

High-sugar food and drinks are getting cheaper and becoming more easily available, while portion sizes are getting bigger and people are eating more processed food.  

“One reason for the increased portion size of sugary beverages is probably that the incremental cost of producing larger-sized beverages is relatively low, while a larger beverage size gives consumers the feeling they get better value for money,” said Domain Leader (Epidemiology), Professor Rob van Dam.

“This is problematic because people tend to have a ‘unit bias’ – they tend to think one unit, for example one cup of a beverage, is the normal amount to consume, even though the unit size increases.”

As Singapore continues to wage war on diabetes, the Ministry of Health (MOH) proposed four measures to curb sugar intake and conducted over 10 public consultation sessions to gather feedback on these measures.

At the last session on 19 January, Dean, Professor Teo Yik Ying, highlighted the seriousness of the problem, even as the country ramps up its fight against diabetes.

“Right now, Singapore has fluoridation in our water. But more than 50 per cent of our pre-schooling children suffer from dental cavities. This indicates that we have a major problem in our society around what we are feeding our children,” said Prof Teo.

Some suggestions raised during the session include rewarding businesses for producing healthier products, making a wider range of healthier options available, and regulating advertising on online space and social media.

Prof Teo also shared his views on the proposed measures. On imposing a tax on high-sugar drinks, he said it provides a strong incentive for industry to reformulate and innovate, and it also gives a clear signal to the public on the downside of consuming beverages that are high in sugar.

“But unless a tax is applied across a wide array of sugar-laden products, singling out only sugar-sweetened beverages may lead to substitution effects where consumers obtain their sugar fix from other food products,” added Prof Teo.

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