Forum: Sugar in freshly made drinks: Regulation in this sector to be studied

A photo taken on Sept 23, 2019, showing sugar on a table.
A photo taken on Sept 23, 2019, showing sugar on a table.PHOTO: AFP

We thank Ms Lavinia Tsai for her suggestion (Display amount of sugar in bubble tea, Oct 28).

More than half of the sugar consumed daily by Singaporeans last year came from sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs), of which 64 per cent was from pre-packaged SSBs.

The Ministry of Health recently announced measures to introduce mandatory front-of-pack nutrition labelling for less healthy pre-packaged SSBs and advertising prohibitions for the least healthy SSBs on local mass media channels.

Sugar from freshly prepared drinks, such as bubble tea, squeezed juices or brewed teas and coffees, has the same impact on health as sugar from pre-packaged SSBs.

However, the freshly prepared drinks landscape is diverse and complex due to the large number of industry players and the lack of standard formulations for the beverages.

Given these challenges, we will study the local landscape and the experiences of the few other countries that have introduced regulation in this sector to determine what can be done.

In the meantime, the Health Promotion Board (HPB) will continue to promote lower sugar consumption. Since 2017, over 3,000 drink kiosks, restaurants, cafes and drink stalls in coffee shops and hawker centres, including four major bubble tea chains in Singapore, have come on board HPB's Healthier Dining Programme to offer lower-sugar beverages on their menus and label them with identifiers to prompt consumers to opt for those.

For example, these bubble tea chains have reduced sugar, calorie and fat content in their drinks.

HPB also works with schools and government agencies to set guidelines on the sugar level of pre-packaged and freshly prepared drinks. For example, freshly brewed coffees and teas sold at government premises are served with no added sugar as a default. These initiatives seek to make lower-sugar, freshly prepared drinks the norm across all settings.

As part of its public education, HPB runs nutrition literacy campaigns on the sugar content in drinks, including bubble tea.

These are coupled with consumer promotions which reward consumers when they choose healthier options.

Healthier options are widely available and we encourage Singaporeans to start making the healthier choice today.

Derrick Heng (Dr)

Group Director, Public Health Group Ministry of Health

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 31, 2019, with the headline 'Sugar in freshly made drinks: Regulation in this sector to be studied'. Print Edition | Subscribe