PETALING JAYA: Experts are calling for the government to do more to combat the rise of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including diabetes and obesity, through awareness campaigns and collaborations with civil society.
“The sugar tax is good. But I think more should be done. You need to create awareness among the people,” Dr Loo Chee Yean of Sri Kota Specialist Medical Centre told FMT.
Loo said a National Health and Morbidity Survey conducted in 2019 showed that almost one in five Malaysians (18.3%) live with diabetes.
Loo attributed the high number to the prevalence of advertisements for sugary drinks on social media.
He urged the government to take to social media to increase awareness of the risks associated with the excessive consumption of sugary drinks and promote healthier lifestyle choices among members of the public.
Despite the imposition of the sugar tax four years ago, a Health White Paper published in June this year claimed that diabetes and obesity are still among the leading causes of death in the country.
Charged at 40 sen per litre, the excise tax on sugar-sweetened beverages containing more than 5g of sugar per 100ml was introduced as a measure to combat diabetes and obesity.
Former deputy health minister Dr Lee Boon Chye agreed that the sugar tax was a good first step but stressed the need to step up public education on the adoption of healthier habits.
“If people take less (sugary) beverages, they may switch to biscuits or to other (foods with high) carbohydrate content, or they could drink more teh tarik instead of canned drinks. So, in the end, it could be worse,” he told FMT.
Lee recommended that the health ministry collaborate with local government health clinics and residents’ associations to organise initiatives that will help monitor the general health of the rakyat.
“With the leadership of government health clinics, screenings and follow-ups can be carried out to look at (a person’s) health metrics and see what needs to be done, and to (recommend) the necessary lifestyle modifications,” he said.