Low awareness of hidden sugars among young Singaporeans, with few checking food labels

By Lester Wan

- Last updated on GMT

Nine out of 10 young adults aged 18 to 24 years were oblivious to the amount of sugar in their daily diet choices. ©Getty Images
Nine out of 10 young adults aged 18 to 24 years were oblivious to the amount of sugar in their daily diet choices. ©Getty Images
Young Singaporean adults have poor awareness of 'hidden sugars' in packaged food and drinks, with most admitting they rarely check product labels.

A survey conducted as part of the Hidden Sugars, Hidden Risks campaign showed that nine out of 10 young adults aged 18 to 24 years old were oblivious to the amount of sugar in their daily diet choices.

The study among Nanyang Technological University (NTU) undergraduates stated that sugars could be sugars naturally present in honey, syrup, fruit juice and fruit juice concentrates, or those that are added to packaged or prepared food and beverages.

A large majority of the 382 respondents said they do not check food labels or ingredients lists.

The campaign sought to educate young adults in identifying various forms of hidden sugars and to encourage them to make more informed and healthier dietary choices.

Among the educational titbits, the campaign pointed out that there are 61 names for or types of sugar that consumers, including young adults, may not recognise on labels.

Some of these include “evaporated cane juice”, “fruit juice concentrate”, “maltodextrin”, “molasses”, “confectioners”, “refiners” and “galactose”.

With young adults being unaware of hidden sugars or their names, it puts them at greater risk of sugar-related diseases, such as diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease — all of which the Singapore government has been trying hard to combat.

The continuing war on diabetes

In recent days, Parliamentary Secretary for Health Amrin Amin announced that the Ministry of Health (MOH) has set aside S$15m (about US$11.39m) to support the local food industry in developing sauces, beverages and desserts with lower sugar content.

"Such food products contribute to about 90% of total sugar intake in our diet,"​ he said.

He added that it would turn the tide in the fight against diabetes and benefit many Singaporean families, as it is expected to reduce sugar in Singaporeans’ diets by 25% by 2020.

The funds will go to the MOH’s Healthier Ingredients Development Scheme (HIDS). We reported that HIDS was launched last July to encourage the food industry to improve the quality of Singaporeans diets.

Recently, HIDS further encouraged manufacturers and restaurants to reduce the sugar​ in their food products.

The Health Promotion Board (HPB) said it was targeting the reduction of sugar in sauces, sweet drinks and desserts. It hoped to reduce sugar intake from 22% to 17%.

Not-so-sweet revelations

The Hidden Sugars, Hidden Risks campaign found that the food and beverage products most frequently consumed by young adults were snacks such as biscuits or potato chips, confectionery such as cakes and iced cookies, dairy products such as flavoured yoghurt and milk, and beverages such as sweetened green tea, barley, soya bean milk, fruit juices and isotonic drinks.

Some young adults revealed that they drink up to four sweetened beverages a day.

According to government estimates, by 2050 one in five people in Singapore will suffer from diabetes. Nonetheless, National Healthcare Group (NHG) Polyclinics dietitian Chan Sau Ling said that limiting refined sugars to less than 10% of a person’s total energy intake can reduce the risk of obesity and related diseases such as diabetes.

At the end of last year, a collaboration between FrieslandCampina Asia and the HPB, the Nurture Kids programme, began teaching pre-school children​ how to eat right and the benefits of activity.

Now, it appears that the government needs to do more for the country’s young adults.

According to the organisers, all the information in the campaign about hidden sugars had been reviewed by the NHG Polyclinics dietetic service.

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