It is embarrassing that the government is playing catch-up with other countries when it comes to promoting health benefits for Malaysians, said the Consumers’ Association of Subang and Shah Alam (Cassa).

Those responsible in upholding Malaysian consumers’ healthcare are not doing their job well enough, says George.

Those responsible in upholding Malaysian consumers’ healthcare are not doing their job well enough, says George.

Cassa president Dr Jacob George said Malaysia’s policy makers should stop putting off enforcing curbs on sugar intake and be proactive instead.

He said it looked bad for Malaysia to wait for other countries before implementing health policies although many research findings were available on the internet proving the negative effects of high sugar intake.

“It is sad this is continuing to happen in year 2017, despite fast advancing technology and cross border sharing of information between nations.

“The information is there but Malaysia is slow in taking action. Those responsible in upholding Malaysian consumers’ healthcare are not doing their job well enough,” he told FMT.

What got George riled was an announcement from Singapore on Tuesday that seven major soft drinks manufacturers in the city state have agreed to reduce sugar content in all their drinks to 12% and below by 2020.

The companies are Coca-Cola, F&N Foods, Malaysia Dairy Industries, Nestle, PepsiCo, Pokka and Yeo Hiap Seng.

The Singapore health ministry’s announcement came two days after the republic’s prime minister Lee Hsien Loong, in his National Day rally speech, urged Singaporeans to cut back on sugary drinks, as they were significantly increasing their risk of diabetes by having such drinks.

Just one can of soft drink can contain eight cubes of sugar – much more than needed for the whole day, Lee said, as he spoke at length on diabetes as one of Singapore’s long-term issues.

George expressed his disappointment that Malaysian policy makers kept making ‘U-turns’ on policies and ended up not reaching any decisions or taking any actions.

“By practicing delaying tactics under the excuse of consultations and joint meetings with stakeholders, nothing gets done,” he said.

He said it was timely for Malaysia to adopt the same stand as Singapore in tackling high sugar intake.

“I expect our policy makers to be stricter. Singapore has set the timeline to reduce sugar content in soft drinks to 12% and below by 2020. We should set a timeline for 2019. That is the kind of response I expect from the policy makers,” he said.

He said a Cassa study in 2008 on Malaysians’ dependency on sugar products found more than 75% of Malays had high dependence on such products. Indians were at about 65% and Chinese 40-45%.

Health ministry data showed 11.6 million of the 16 million adults in Malaysia are sick with a non-communicable disease like diabetes, hypertension or cancer.

The data is supported by findings from the International Diabetes Institute (IDI) which show Malaysia has the fourth highest number of diabetics in Asian countries.

Some 800,000 cases of diabetes were recorded in 2007, and the number increased to 1.3 million in 2010.

IDI data also show that almost 15.2% of Malaysian adults were diabetic in 2011 as compared to just one to two percent in 1960.