SINGAPORE - There could be less sugar in canned and packet drinks to come, with seven beverage companies here pledging to reduce the amount of sugar in their products to 12 per cent or lower by 2020.
This works out to 12g of sugar for every 100ml, said the Ministry of Health (MOH) on Tuesday (Aug 22). This means that a typical 250 ml canned drink sold here would contain a maximum of 30g of sugar, or 7.5 teaspoons of sugar.
The impact of the move could be limited, given that most of the seven companies said that the majority of their products sold here already fall within the 12 per cent limit. Three told The Straits Times that all of their drinks contain less than 12 per cent sugar.
But the pledge by the industry players underscores an attempt to try to get the nation healthier, following Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's National Day Rally Speech last Sunday, of which fighting diabetics was one of three key planks. During his speech, he referred to the measure by the beverage firms as a first step to tackling the problem of the consumption of soft drinks and sugar here.
The beverage firms which have agreed to reduce sugar are Coca-Cola, F&N Foods, Malaysia Dairy Industries, Nestle, PepsiCo, Pokka, and Yeo Hiap Seng.
"These players make up 70 per cent of the total pre-packaged sugar-sweetened beverages market in Singapore," said MOH in its statement. "This move could potentially reduce sugar consumption from (such beverages) by about 300,000kg per year."
According to MOH statistics, 60 per cent of Singaporeans' total sugar intake comes from sugary beverages. This includes soft drinks and juices, as well as coffee and tea.
The average Singaporean consumes more than 1,500 teaspoons of sugar from prepacked sugar-sweetened beverages in a year. This is more than 7kg of sugar.
However, some experts felt that the bar for drink companies should be set even higher - given that many products already fall within the acceptable range.
The sugar in the Coke beverage sold in Singapore, for instance, is at 10.6 per cent
"If Coke, for example, is already at that level, let's challenge companies to reduce sugar even further," said Ms Jaclyn Reutens, a dietitian at Aptima Nutrition and Sports Consultants.
Ideally, she said, she would like to see all such beverages down to between 6 and 7 per cent sugar. This is the current level at which the Health Promotion Board awards drinks the Healthier Choice Symbol.
However, Ms Reutens also pointed out that a person's health eventually boils down to their consumption patterns, and not just how much sugar is in their drinks.
"If someone drinks soft drinks just twice a week, I wouldn't be too worried," she said. "But if someone is drinking two cans a day, there will be a lot of impact."
MOH also gave updates on its efforts to get Singaporeans to eat more healthily and exercise more.
For instance, the number of healthier meals sold under the Health Promotion Board's (HPB) Healthier Dining Programme has gone up from 7.5 million in 2014 to 26 million as of March this year.
It has also been encouraging companies to produce healthier ingredients - such as wholegrain noodles - under the Healthier Ingredient Development Scheme, and has approved six applications so far.
HPB has also received a total of half a million sign-ups for both seasons of its National Steps Challenge. Those who joined the challenge were given a free step tracker, and given incentives to walk up to 10,000 steps a day.