Aiming for a healthier Malaysia with no added sugar

Obesity is a major problem in Malaysia. It has the highest rate of overall obesity in Asia, and one in five children is overweight or obese

To raise awareness of this issue and highlight the importance of a healthy diet, Fonterra Brands Malaysia hosted a forum with leading industry experts and media.  

The forum focused on the implications of a high-sugar diet for children, which experts say has been one of the major contributors to the increase in obesity in Malaysia. From 2011 to 2015 the percentage of obese children nearly doubled to 12 per cent, signalling an urgent need for education and change.

Paediatric Endocrinologist, Dr Muhammad Yazid Jalaludin, said beyond contributing to obesity, a high-sugar diet can also impact a child’s learning and development, and lead to many long-term health implications such as increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, non-communicable diseases and heart diseases.

“Preference for sugar usually develops early and can extend well into adulthood; and overweight children are much more likely to become overweight or obese adults. That’s why it’s so important to start the right nutrition habits at a young age,” said Dr Yazid.

One common challenge Malaysians face when trying to reduce sugar in their diet is the different ways sugar is labelled on food and beverage packets.

Dietician Indra Balaratnam said educating parents about reading labels and the impact sugar can have on their child’s health is an important place to start. 

“Added sugar can take many forms on food packaging.  Some examples include sucrose, maltose and dextrose. Excessive added sugars in foods and drinks are empty calories that lead to obesity and other health complications in the long-run when eaten in excess.

“Instead of such sugars, look for foods or that merely contain their own natural sugars as part of their carbohydrate make up, such as fruit or milk. Plus, these foods are more nutrient dense as they have important nutrients such as vitamin C, calcium and protein that are beneficial to a child’s overall health and development.

“Parents can definitely play a part in this education process by involving children in grocery shopping and meal preparation,” said Ms Balaratnam.

Ultimately the experts agree that to make positive change, food producers, regulators and educators need to work together to help Malaysian consumers make better food choices for themselves and for their children.

Fonterra Brands Malaysia began on a journey five years ago with the aim to create healthier dairy products with less added sugar.

One example of this is Anmum Essential – the only ‘growing up milk’ in the Malaysian market without added sugar.

Fonterra Brands Malaysia’s  Director of New Product Development, Scientific and Regulatory Affairs, Megawati Suzari, said as a food company it is vital to provide high quality nutrition, and there are more products with less or no added sugar in the pipeline for consumers.   

“As well as introducing healthier products, we are working with the Ministry of Health and other regulatory bodies to help Malaysians make better nutritional choices,” Ms Suzari.