Asia Minute: Southeast Asia Fights Obesity with Attacks on Sugar

Jan 28, 2019

Credit Marlith / Wikimedia Commons

The link between high sugar consumption and health problems has sparked a legislative response in a number of states and overseas. One target is sugary drinks – and one approach has been to apply a special tax on the beverages. In Singapore, that’s just one of the proposals in play, and lawmakers are entering a new phase in considering several ideas to cut sugar consumption.

Friday was the last day for Singapore’s public to weigh in on a Ministry of Health inquiry about how to cut the national sugar intake. The country is considering a number of measures, including an outright ban on high-sugar drinks — which would be the first of its kind in the world.

Also under discussion: boosting taxes on high sugar drinks, and restricting their advertising — even putting warning labels on containers — similar to the health warnings on cigarette packs.

Singapore’s Ministry of Health says more than half of the country’s sugar consumption comes from drinks — so that’s become a prime target in the government’s effort to slow or stop a growing trend of obesity and diabetes.

Neighboring Malaysia has an even worse problem with extra pounds — or kilograms. According to government figures, nearly half of Malaysia’s population is considered obese — and a new tax on sugary drinks will kick in this April.

About a year ago, the Philippines became the first country in Asia to tax sugar sweetened beverages, and their sales dropped sharply within the first quarter after the tax went into effect.

The World Health Organization says that because of the reduced sugar consumption driven by that tax, the Philippines will avoid some 24,000 premature deaths over the next twenty years.