Why It Matters

Set limits with no sugarcoating

While setting an upper limit on the amount of sugar that drinks can contain is an admirable effort, this may be a case of harvesting the low-hanging fruit.

Here is why: On Tuesday, the Ministry of Health (MOH) announced that by 2020, the majority of bottled, canned and packet drinks will have a maximum of 12 per cent sugar. But the majority of drinks produced by seven firms already meet the 12 per cent target - barring a few outliers.

Even Coca-Cola Classic - often cited when people mention sugary soft drinks - has 10.6g of sugar per 100ml, or 10.6 per cent, already below the limit.

In fact, three firms - F&N Foods, Nestle and Malaysia Dairy Industries - said that all their products already fall within acceptable limits.

It means that although seven beverage firms, which account for 70 per cent of the market, have agreed to the changes imposed by MOH, things are likely to remain the same. We are unlikely to see vastly reformulated drinks on supermarket shelves.

To really get serious about how sugar in soft drinks is affecting our health, drink companies should be held to a higher bar.

By 2020, the average 330ml canned drink will have no more than 40g of sugar, or around eight teaspoons. The Health Promotion Board recommends that people consume a maximum of 40g to 55g of added sugar a day.

The World Health Organisation recommends that sugar should make up no more than 10 per cent of a person's daily calorie intake.

Research has shown that adults who consume less sugar generally weigh less, and that children with the highest intake of sugar-sweetened drinks are more likely to be overweight or obese, WHO said.

Halving the recommended amount to 5 per cent, it added, could lead to "additional health benefits" such as a lower rate of tooth decay.

For an adult consuming around 2,000 calories a day, this lower recommendation works out to around 25g - or six teaspoons - of sugar a day.

If the war on diabetes is to be won, no quarter should be given.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 26, 2017, with the headline 'Set limits with no sugarcoating'. Print Edition | Subscribe