'War' on excessive sugar to be launched soon to curb rise in NCDs, says Dzulkefly

PUTRAJAYA: A “war” against excessive consumption of sugar will be launched soon and it is aimed at preventing the rise of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) among Malaysians, says Datuk Seri Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad

The Health Minister said several measures were necessary despite reports showing that there had been a decrease in NCDs such as diabetes, hypertension and cholesterol since 2019.

“We will be introducing a grading system on sweetened beverages and premix drinks..based on the amount of sugar the drink contains.

“This is similar to what is being done across Causeway, where the level of sugar in drinks is graded A, B or C.

“These are the measures we are taking in the war against sugar, which is coming soon,” he told a press conference after launching of the National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS) 2023 and the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) Malaysia 2023 here on Thursday (May 16).

Although the prevalence of diabetes had dropped by 2.7% between 2019 to 2023 while hypertension dropped by 0.8%, and cholesterol decreased 4.8% within the same period, Dzukelfly pointed out that the prevalence of Malaysians being overweight and obese was on the rise.

“Based on our study, one in two Malaysians is either overweight or obese.

“We are aware that being obese and overweight carries a higher risk with those affected prone to Type 2 Diabetes.

“Also, being obese and overweight carries a higher risk of developing cancer and also fatty liver,” he added.

Dzulkefly said the Health Ministry was also currently engaging with stakeholders including industry players on strategies for the war against sugar.

He said the sugar grading system for sweetened beverages is a continuation of the government’s efforts to reduce the consumption of excessive sugar by the public.

However, Dzulkefly did not specify a timeline for the implementation of the sugar grading system.

In 2019, the government introduced a tax on sugary drinks, imposing a 40sen levy per litre for beverages containing more than 5g of sugar per 100ml and fruit juices with 12g of sugar per 100ml.

According to the National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS) 2023, there has been a surge in the prevalence of overweight and obese individuals by nearly 10% between 2011 and last year.

Abdominal obesity among adults also saw an increase of almost 10% for the same period.

Meanwhile, speaking on the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) 2023, the Health Minister expressed serious concern on the rise of the prevalence in the use of e-cigarettes or vapes among young adults, especially those below the age of 50 years old.

“It is a serious and worrying matter and requires a quick and comprehensive solution,” he added.

The Health Ministry’s effort to gazette the Smoking Products Control Act for Public Health 2024 (Act 852) since Feb 2, this year, are in line with the key articles outlined under the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) in efforts to curb the use of tobacco products and reduce the harm caused by smoking and the use of other tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes or vapes.

“We plan to fully enforce Act 852 along with the regulations and orders under it starting from June this year,” he said.