Dairy industry faces uphill battle to persuade Singaporeans to drink milk

By Lester Wan

- Last updated on GMT

Dr Kalpana Bhaskaran, domain lead for Applied Nutrition Research, Temasek Polytechnic, and head of the Glycaemic Index Research Unit, authored the study. ©FrieslandCampinaAsia
Dr Kalpana Bhaskaran, domain lead for Applied Nutrition Research, Temasek Polytechnic, and head of the Glycaemic Index Research Unit, authored the study. ©FrieslandCampinaAsia

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The dairy industry has a battle on its hands to increase milk consumption in Singapore, with a recent report revealing that half of Singaporean adults seldom consume it and are content to ignore its important health benefits.

According to Milk Perceptions, a recently-released report on milk consumption in Singapore, 50% of adult Singaporeans do not drink even a glass a day.

The research, commissioned by FrieslandCampina Asia, was conducted by Dr Kalpana Bhaskaran, domain lead for Applied Nutrition Research, Temasek Polytechnic, and head of the Glycaemic Index Research Unit (GIRU), as well as an independent research agency.

Dr Kalpana said she was surprised to find that many Singaporeans are falling short on critical nutrients such as calcium and protein, which can be easily addressed by adjusting daily diets.

“It is as simple as adding one glass of milk to our meals,”​ said Dr Kalpana.

“A single serving of milk provides as much calcium as 16 servings of spinach or three tablespoons of anchovies which is high in sodium,” she said.

No milk mainly due to ignorance

The most worrying finding of the study was that the reasons adult Singaporeans stayed away from milk were due to cultural habits and ignorance about its benefits.

“The lack of motivation among adult Singaporeans to change their daily diets despite being presented with evidence of the benefits of milk in preventing chronic diseases such as osteoporosis and diabetes is particularly alarming.

“This is especially worrying given our rapidly ageing society, when one in four Singaporeans above age 65 will develop a chronic disease,”​ said Dr Kalpana, who is also vice-president of the Diabetic Society of Singapore and a member of the Singapore Nutrition and Dietetics Association, among other roles.

Despite knowing the importance of milk for bone health, adult Singaporeans do not perceive milk to be important in adulthood.

Singaporeans also do not seem to be aware of other nutritional or health benefits of milk, such as in terms of protein, and Vitamins B, D and A. This includes the role of milk in reducing the onset of chronic diseases such as osteoporosis.

Some of the false impressions that industry needs to overcome include the overestimation of the fat content in full cream milk (46% as compared to the actual 4%), as well as that UHT milk is less nutritious than fresh milk.

Furthermore, some do not drink milk simply because they dislike its taste or feel that milk-drinking is not part of their culture. While some Singaporeans do add milk to their daily intake of coffee or tea, or use it in cooking, the amounts are minute and not as beneficial as drinking it on its own.

Regional difficulty

Nonetheless, the problem of the lack of milk drinking in relation to bone health does not apply only to Singapore.

“Despite the important role that milk and dairy plays in nutrition, we are seeing a decline in milk consumption in many developed countries where a significant proportion of the adult population is not drinking milk. At the same time they are not meeting the recommended daily allowance for calcium,” ​said Ada Wong, head of Public Affairs & Communications, Asia, FrieslandCampina AMEA.

Useful suggestions by focus group participants in the study include having more public health campaigns with clearer messages targeting Singaporeans of all generations, increasing the accessibility of milk, and improving the education and awareness of milk’s health benefits as compared to alternative sources of nutrition. The dangers of osteoporosis in old age also need to be conveyed more strongly, as well as the role that milk can play in reducing it.

For those who dislike the taste of milk, one suggestion to overcome it is to have flavoured milk.

Said Wong, We believe, to make real impact, both public and private sectors need to work together closely and implement strategies that can improve consumers’ awareness as well as their nutrition status.”

“The insights and anecdotes provided by the study’s participants can help food and dairy companies better communicate the benefits of dairy through various channels,” ​she said.

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