KUALA LUMPUR: The removal of subsidies for sugar has not had the intended effect of reducing sugar consumption, Health Minister Dr S Subramaniam said.
The Nikkei Asian Review (NAR) quoted him as saying: “We see there is no decrease in consumption of sugar.”
Malaysia may now consider taxing sugar if it is shown that there has indeed been a reduction in sugar consumption in countries which plan to levy a sugar tax.
Dr Subrmaniam was speaking on the sidelines of the EAT Asia Pacific Forum in Jakarta, a regional food industry meeting organised by the Norway-based EAT Foundation.
NAR quoted him as saying the government used to subsidise sugar. When the subsidy was removed in 2013, the cost of sugar went up. However, this did not stop people from continuing to consume almost the same amount of sugar.
“If there is overwhelming evidence that shows that tax reduces sugar consumption (in countries that intend to impose a sugar tax), we have to know at what level, then we will probably consider that,” Dr Subramaniam told NAR.
Several Western countries, such as France and Ireland, plan to introduce a sugar tax.
Malaysia is struggling with growing obesity and a rise of related “lifestyle” conditions or “non communicable diseases” such as diabetes.
The Economist Intelligence Unit’s “Tackling Obesity in Asean” report, released in June, showed that Malaysia had the highest number of obese people in Southeast Asia.
The report covered Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam.
The report said in Malaysia, the prevalence of obesity was at 13.3%, while those who were overweight was at 38.5%.
Local media had quoted Dr Subramaniam, in December 2016, as saying that one in two Malaysian adults was either overweight or obese, with the number increasing by four-fold in the last 20 years.
He had said that the number of obesity cases in 1996 was 4.4% of the population, rising to 15.1% in 2011 and 17.7% in 2015.
A Malaysian National Health and Morbidity Survey in 2015 suggested that a fifth of Malaysian adults would have diabetes by 2020.
However, NAR reported that it was still inconclusive as to what extent sugar consumption caused diabetes.
The World Health Organisation reported last October that while cutting sugar could help prevent diabetes, fats and salts in processed foods were also drivers of the condition. It added that people’s lifestyle choices around diet and exercise were also key to prevention.
NAR quoted Dr Subramaniam as saying: “We are still not happy with the per capita consumption of vegetables and fruits. It’s the overall calorie consumption, if people exercise more, if we can address those things, we can reduce the incidence of diabetes.”
The NAR report also noted measures taken by Singapore and Indonesia to reduce obesity and the incidence of diabetes in those countries.
It said Singapore was considering sugar taxes.