Parliament has unveiled new measures to counteract the growing statistics of diabetes in Singapore, with approximately 19,000 people being diagnosed with the disease each year.
In a bid to “win the war on diabetes, we will need concerted, multi-year efforts, and many of these will only bear fruit in the long term,” noted Health Minister Gan Kim Yong in parliament earlier in March.
Bubble tea, sugary drinks – all to carry grading label A – D, by 2012. Photo: iStock
Combatting rising statistics of diabetes in Singapore: Introduction of “Nutri-grade”
Drinks containing sugar to be graded A – D
All pre-packaged, non-alcoholic drinks containing a high amount of sugar or saturated fat will be graded A to D, with D being the unhealthiest, and will have to have the grades labelled clearly on the packaging.
The nutrition label, titled “Nutri-Grade”, will be a colour-coded grading system ranging from green to red and will have letters reflecting the sugar and saturated fat content of the drinks.
This label applies to packaged drinks, as well as freshly prepared drinks, ranging from bubble teas to smoothies and drinks from traditional medicine stores.
D-grade drinks will not be marketed publicly and will carry an advertising ban.
The measures were announced by Senior Minister of State for Health Edwin Tong in Parliament, who noted that the war against diabetes was part of the efforts to reduce chronic disease in Singapore, and encompassed drinks as it is “a substantial and growing source of sugar intake for many Singaporeans.”
Drinks that include waters, skimmed milk and unsweetened teas, and that have 1g or less of sugar and 0.7g or less of saturated fat per 100ml, and contain no sweetener, will be graded A – which is the healthiest of the grades.
Drinks that are usually juice drinks, soft drinks and energy drinks, and have 10g of sugar or 2.8g of saturated fat per 100ml, will be awarded a D – which is the unhealthiest grade.
It is known that about 70 per cent of pre-packaged drinks in Singapore fall into the category of either C or D, and drinks that are graded D will not be advertised on any media platform but can be promoted within their own stores or points of sale.
“We want to encourage manufacturers to reformulate. The point is not to deprive Singaporeans of their favourite drinks, but to encourage manufacturers on their journey to reformulation to create a wider range of healthier beverages for all to enjoy,” Mr Tong noted.
He further noted that the measures will not affect small businesses with one or two stalls, like those in hawker centres, initially, but “this may change as the situation develops.”
Combatting rising statistics of diabetes in Singapore – Govt to increase water dispensers
There will also be an increased number of water dispensers in public, to provide a healthier alternative and to encourage Singaporeans to drink water instead.
The water dispensers will be strategically placed at all hawker centres, and more than a dozen bus interchanges and terminals, by mid-2020.
More water dispensers to be available in public, by mid-2020. Photo: iStock
Expert in dietetics and nutrition at the Singapore Institute of Technology, Verena Tan, commented on the average Singaporean’s daily intake of sugar is twice the amount recommended by the World Health Organisation.
“A ban on advertising of sweetened pre-packaged beverages will lower the influence of advertising by reducing exposure especially among the vulnerable groups like young children,” she said.
The new grading system is expected to jolt the industry into reformulating their products so they don’t fall into the unhealthy bands of C and D. It will also serve as a reminder to the public to consume healthier products.
Professor Teo Yik Ying, dean of the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at the National University of Singapore further noted that the grading system, however, is “not the final instrument”, and that “there may be a need to implement a sugar tax, which is something governments (elsewhere) have done” if the situation and statistics of diabetes in Singapore does not improve even after a couple of years of implementing the current measures.