diabetes prevention ban on sugary drink ads

Diabetes Prevention – Ban On Sugary Drink Ads

Ong Ye Kung, our Minister for Health, announced an upcoming ban on ads for sugary drinks amongst others on 11 August 2022, where more details will be announced next year. The ad ban is an attempt to prevent diabetes in Singaporeans.

This was first teased in 2019 and implemented in 2020 but Covid happened so it had to be pushed back. The latest announcement was made at the 2022 meeting of the International Society For Peritoneal Dialysis. This ad ban was announced at a kidney failure treatment meeting as diabetes can lead to kidney failure.

We will look at an overview of diabetes and the measures announced to curb diabetes in Singapore.

Singaporeans’ Intake Of Sugar

According to the 2018/2019 National Nutrition Survey, Singaporeans consume an average of 12 tablespoons (60g) of sugar daily. This includes the intake from both food and drinks.

It has not increased much as compared to the 59g from 2010, almost 10 years before. However, that is still a lot of sugar.

HPB recommends less than 40 – 55g of added sugar a day. To be honest, this is higher than expected. About ⅔ of the majority of Singaporeans’ daily sugar (40g) intake comes from canned and packet drinks.

I recommend making water your everyday beverage. It is extremely low cost and good for you. Bring your own water bottle and save your money.

Here is a reference on how much sugar common drinks in Singapore have.

singapore drinks sugar content

Water 0g
Chocolate Drink (Can) 16.6g
Energy Drink (Can) 19.5g
Teh (Glass) 22.5g
Ice Tea (Can) 27g
Sparkling Juice 31.5g
Cola 35g

Source: Straits Times

Sugar > Obesity > Diabetes > Kidney Failure

Overconsumption of sugar can lead to obesity which can lead to diabetes which can lead to kidney failure. This is why the ban on sugary drink ads was mentioned in a congress on kidney failure treatment.

Singapore Diabetes Facts & Statistics

Here are some facts and statistics on Diabetes in Singapore.

  • There is no cure for diabetes.
  • There are four types of diabetes
    • Prediabetes (High blood glucose but not high enough to be diagnosed)
    • Type 1 Diabetes (Insulin production problem)
    • Type 2 Diabetes (Insulin usage problem)
    • Gestational Diabetes (High blood glucose during pregnancy due to hormones)
  • It costs over S$1 billion annually to manage diabetes in Singapore.
  • About 400,000 people in Singapore have diabetes in 2013.
  • ⅔ of these 400,000 are not aware they have the disease
  • If not controlled, 1 million Singaporeans will be living with diabetes by 2050
  • Diabetes is the 10th leading cause of death in Singapore (1.7% of total deaths in Singapore)

Diabetes Implications

This is a list of symptoms diabetic patients face.

  • Unintended weight loss
  • Increased urination
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased hunger
  • Blurred vision
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Slow healing of cuts

On top of the symptoms, here are some of the potential implications that can happen from untreated or uncontrolled diabetes.

Disease Description
Vascular Dementia Loss of brain function
Diabetic Retinopathy Blindness
Arterial Disease Hardening and narrowing of blood vessels
Nerve Damage Numbness or pain in toes, fingers and limbs

Nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and constipation

Erectile dysfunction

Depression Mood disorder
Heart Disease Chest pain, heart attack, stroke and high blood pressure
Kidney Disease Shortness of breath, swelling in the legs, weakness, lethargy, confusion, itching, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting

Might require kidney dialysis or transplant

Skin Infections Fungal and bacterial infections, skin-spotting, rashes and oddly-textured skin patches.
Foot Disease Cuts and blisters on the leg heal poorly and might need to be amputated.

Nutri-Grade – A Tier List For Drinks

Prepacked drinks on the markets will be ranked from A to D based on their sugar and saturated fat content.

nutri grade grading system

Source: Health Promotion Board

Tier A and B will not have mandatory labelling as a healthier choice but businesses most likely will want to do so to show off that their drinks have lower sugar and saturated fat.

For Tier C and D, it will be mandatory for them to be labelled with Nutri-Grade marks

nutri grade mark

Source: Health Promotion Board

This grading system will allow consumers to make better decisions and have a constant reminder of the sugar content of their everyday beverages.

This will take effect from 30 December 2022 onwards.

How About Freshly Prepared Drinks?

Besides prepacked drinks, freshly prepared drinks like Starbucks/coffee shop beverages and bubble tea or even fruit juice also contain high amounts of sugar. However, they currently do not fall under the Nutri-Grade scheme. MOH and HPB are aware of these high sugar drinks and will aim to lower their intake in schemes that will be announced in the future.

Banning Of Ads For Sugary Drinks

The banning of ads will be on drinks that are in the D tier of Nutri-Grade, the worst of the worst. This will be a two-pronged approach where suppliers will lower the sugar content of their drinks and consumers will be less exposed to sugary drinks.

All ads (tv, radio, online, billboards, etc) are banned except at point-of-sales platforms.

The point-of-sales platforms include

  • Promotional signage at supermarkets and shelves
  • Tasting booths
  • Pop-ups at e-commerce sites

These ads must also include the Nutri-Grade mark clearly.

Businesses might exploit this “loophole” and focus their advertising here. If it goes overboard, the rules have to change to accommodate.

The actual guidelines will be released in mid-2023 and will be implemented in late-2023.

Why Ban Ads?

As we know, ads have the function of informing, persuading and reminding. Ads are very effective in increasing the consumption of the specified product. By banning ads, the Singapore Government is hoping that it will lower the consumption of sugary drinks.

If you don’t know/forget/are undecided about the drink, you will be less likely to drink it.

This is similar to tobacco or gambling where ads are banned. They usually also do not appear on prime-time tv.

What’s Next?

Stepping in this direction is the right move. Providing consumers with more information allows them to make better decisions. In fact, the nutritional details are right in your face, not in the fine print, making it hard to ignore. After listing the sugar content, here are two items that can be listed on food and drinks products.

Calories

Depending on our goals to gain, lose or maintain weight, it is a calories in, calories out game.

Calories In > Calories Out Gain Weight
Calories In = Calories Out Maintain Weight
Calories In < Calories Out Lose Weight

Counting calories is a chore and if the food item has multiple ingredients or is cooked in complicated ways, it can be difficult for the average person to know how many calories are there in it.

Listing out the calorie amount can help consumers make better decisions to take control of their health.

Macros

To go one step further, it will be even better if the macros of food and beverages can be listed. Instead of just understanding how much sugar a drink has, we will be able to know how much carbohydrates, proteins and fats any food item has.

I know that it can be costly and impractical for smaller businesses to list out such details for their entire menu so it can be reserved for bigger businesses like chain outlets. Also, basic proper nutritional education starts in school so that we will start to understand what are we actually putting in our bodies. Without understanding more about food nutrition, it can be difficult to navigate all the various food choices. As an additional benefit, a better-educated public will also not fall into food supplement scams.

TL, DR

The recent announcement of the ad ban on sugary drinks is part of Singapore’s battle to prevent diabetes. It costs over S$1 billion a year to manage diabetes. To facilitate the banning of ads, there first needs to be a system to differentiate sugary drinks and healthier alternatives. There is still more to be done to allow consumers to make more informed decisions regarding their health.

Icons made by Freepik from Flaticon

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