Forum: Remove sugary drinks from all primary schools

In 2016, the Ministry of Health (MOH) launched its War on Diabetes campaign amid growing concern over the high number of patients.

Then Health Minister Gan Kim Yong stated that if nothing was done, one in three Singaporeans would develop diabetes.

A nutrition label design study commissioned by the Health Promotion Board and published last year said that "a key risk factor of diabetes in Singapore is a high intake of sugar, particularly from beverages".

Rightfully, measures introduced by MOH included nutrition labels on drinks and promoting the consumption of water.

Children under the age of 18 were not included in this study, however, so it is not as clear whether such labels would influence this age group.

Currently, drinks containing less than 6g of sugar per 100ml are sold at primary schools, including at the school my children attend.

Despite these drinks being classified as "low sugar", one 250ml carton would contain 15g of sugar.

This is about three teaspoons of sugar, and is more than half the maximum recommended by the American Academy of Paediatrics and Britain's National Health Service.

Despite efforts by the Government, the reality remains that children's access to sugary drinks at school is largely unsupervised.

My children speak of friends drinking two or three sugary drinks every day at school. Some of these children will likely drink more after school in addition to consuming food products with added sugar.

Apart from food that obviously contains sugar, such as sweets and biscuits, anything other than home-cooked food may contain hidden sugar.

To believe that, as parents, we can teach our children to make healthy choices and to be strong-willed enough to resist the temptation is naive.

The lure of the sweet taste and the colourful packaging, along with their school implicitly endorsing the drinks by allowing them to be sold on the premises, are too much for a parent to overcome.

The only solution is a coordinated effort by the Government, schools and parents.

Some primary schools have already eliminated sugary drinks from their premises.

This cultivates in children the healthy habit of drinking water to rehydrate, and viewing sugary drinks as an occasional treat.

Mizue Sauco

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