On Wednesday (26 February), Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Health Amrin Amin said that about 19,000 people in Singapore are diagnosed with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes annually.
While speaking in Parliament, he added that his Ministry expects more individuals to be identified as diabetic patients in the short term as they have better access to health screenings in Singapore today.
Additionally, Mr Amrin pointed out that people have also realised now the importance of early detection and the risks of allowing more complications to occur if left uncontrolled.
He said this in response to a question raised by Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar (Ang Mo Kio GRC). She had asked for the annual numbers of people being diagnosed with diabetes in the last five years.
As to ways of reducing the risk of contracting diabetes and slowing down the process of having complications in diabetic patients, Mr Amrin said that there are number of existing initiatives in place.
However, he noted that it will take a long time, probably years, for both the overall occurrence of diabetes and its complication rate to reduce.
Generally, diabetes happens when there’s too much sugar in your blood. Type 1 diabetic is when the pancreas innately cannot produce insulin to regulate the blood sugar levels. This Type is hereditary and unpreventable, unlike Type 2 diabetes, which occurs due to weight issues. It is normally caused by lifestyle factors like drinking alcohol and not working out regularly.
Based on the newest statistic by the National Population Health Survey, 8.6 percent of people in Singapore had been diagnosed with this disease in 2017.
Measures to reduce national sugar consumption
Dr Intan went on further to ask when the plan to decrease Singaporeans’ consumption of sugar in sweetened beverages will be implemented.
In October last year, the MOH stated that it had sought the advice of public and industry players over the span of eight weeks on four proposed methods to reduce the intake of high-sugar drinks among the people.
The four measures were compulsory front-of-pack labelling, regulation on advertising, a tax on sugar, and a ban on high-sugar sweetened beverages.
Out of these, the Ministry said that it wants to implement two of the measures first – compulsory front-of-pack labelling to show the health value of the drink, and prohibit advertising on drinks that fall into the unhealthy category.
As for the remaining two measures, the Ministry said that a more detailed study would have to be carried out first.
As such, Mr Amrin said in Parliament that details about the two measures and when they will be implemented will be revealed in the upcoming debate in Parliament regarding the ministries’ budgets.
To this, Dr Intan asked if the two measures will include drinks like bubble tea, coffee, tea, and syrup-based drinks served at buffets and restaurants.
In response, Mr Amrin disclosed that a third of Singaporeans’ sugar intake come from freshly prepared beverages like bubble tea and blended coffee, and the data shows that it’s growing.
As of now, MOH is taking into account whether to extend the labelling and advertising regulations to these drinks. It is currently in discussion with stakeholders such as the food and beverage industry, Mr Amrin said.
Singapore’s War on Diabetes
The measures introduced is part of the government’s ‘War on Diabetes’, which is a major health problem in Singapore. Diabetes is the 10th leading cause of death in Singapore, accounting for 1.3% of deaths according to the Ministry of Health (MOH).
Worryingly, more than half of the 12 teaspoons of sugar consumed by people in Singapore every day comes from sugary drinks.
While speaking at the Singapore Health & Biomedical Congress on 10 October last year, Senior Minister of State for Health Mr Edwin Tong said, “This is a concern, as drinking an additional 250ml serving of SSBs [sugar-sweetened beverages] every day increases the risk of diabetes by up to 26 percent.”