Soft drink makers have agreed to cut the sugar in all their drinks sold in Singapore as part of efforts to combat diabetes, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the National Day Rally on Sunday (20 August).
Speaking at the ITE College Central in Ang Mo Kio, Lee gave Singaporeans four suggestions to tackle diabetes, which he said is a “very serious” disease and a leading cause of ill health. In addition to cutting down their sugar intake, Singaporeans should also do regular checkups, exercise more and watch their diet, Lee said.
Many common causes of death, such as heart attack, stroke and kidney failure, can be traced back to diabetes, Lee pointed out.
While one in nine Singaporeans have diabetes, its prevalence increases with age, with three in 10 Singaporeans over the age of 60 afflicted with the disease.
“If you break down by race, among the Chinese, 2.5 in 10 over 60 will have it. Among the Malays, half, and for the Indians, 6 in 10. So this is a very serious problem, and for the Malays and Indians, actually a health crisis,” Lee said.
Earlier in his Malay speech, Lee said that 17 per cent of Malay Singaporeans have diabetes and one key reason for the trend is obesity. Malay-Muslim organisations and mosques are working to encourage the community to adopt a healthier lifestyle such as watching their diet.
Lee flagged soft drinks as a problem, saying that they are “very bad” for health due to their high refined sugar content. Children are most at risk because soft drinks are part of their lifestyle.
“When a young man takes his girlfriend to the cinema, how can they not buy popcorn and soft drinks! We are seeing more diabetes cases among young people now, including children. That means big trouble for their health,” Lee said.
While the step by soft drinks makers to cut back on sugar content will help, Lee said choosing what to drink is a personal choice. Nonetheless, he encouraged Singaporeans to drink more plain water.
Lee also spoke about other potential solutions that Singapore is exploring ways to cut sugar intake.
Several European countries, Mexico and Brunei, for example, have tried a sugar tax while the UK and Chile have placed warning labels on drinks with high sugar content. But it is not clear yet if these measures work, Lee said.
Regular check-ups, exercise and healthy diet
Lee also urged Singaporeans to go for regular medical check-ups and not take the “it is better not to know” attitude, as part of the country’s efforts to combat diabetes.
Singaporeans should take advantage of health checks at community events or subsidised screenings under the Ministry of Health’s Screen for Life programme. If something is amiss after a health check, Singaporeans should see a doctor, Lee urged.
Lee also stressed on the importance of exercise, saying that regular exercise sessions will help lower blood sugar and blood pressure. For instance, Singaporeans should make the effort to walk a bit more and incorporate it in their daily routine.
Another advice that Lee gave is to eat less and eat healthily. He pointed out that Singaporeans are putting on weight because they are eating more.
Singaporeans has increased their consumption from 2,100 calories per day in 1998 to 2,600 calories per day in 2010, Lee pointed out.
“I don’t have the latest survey results but I fear the trend is still up,” said Lee.
Families are eating out more often but even then, they can choose healthier dishes like yong tau foo and sliced fish soup. For those who cook at home, Lee said they can make small changes like replacing white rice with brown or mixed grain rice.
Lee revealed that his family has a history of diabetes, with his paternal grandmother and several of his uncles having suffered from the disease.
“My father (Lee Kuan Yew) did not, probably because he watched his diet and weight very carefully and was extremely disciplined about exercising,” Lee said.
Lee said he has to watch his own health condition and is taking precautions, such as doing a test for fasting blood sugar twice a year.
“I exercise daily. I watch what I eat and drink…It takes effort, but it can be done. Hope you join me. Start today, so that we can live long and live well,” Lee added.