An average Malaysian eats the equivalent of 26 teaspoons of sugar a day. Doctors say this is leading to a rise in the number of diabetics in the country.

This is worrying health planners who want the government to discourage advertising of food products, particularly those aimed at children.

Health officials believe the sugar content in a product should be mentioned on the label in red, orange or green.

Early this year, the country was ranked the world’s eighth highest sugar user. According to a 2005 survey, Malaysians consumed 17 teaspoons of sugar per person per day in the 1970s. But Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) president S.M. Mohamed Idris says the consumption might have increased further by now.

Former Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister Shahrir Abdul Samad confirmed that Malaysia is the eighth highest sugar user in the world.

Malaysians consume sugar in the form of soft drinks, condensed milk, flavoured drinks, junk food and even breakfast cereals.

Production is geared to the Malaysian sweet tooth.

A CAP survey revealed that some drinks and food contained 10 teaspoons of sugar in a single serving.

Idris said a brand of orange juice contained 40.8 teaspoons of sugar in a two-litre pack, while a brand of cordial syrup had 200 teaspoons in a two-litre bottle.

As a result, Idris said the International Diabetes Institute recorded Malaysia as having the fourth highest number of diabetics in Asia with 800,000 cases in 2007, which is expected to increase to 1.3 million in 2010.

“Sugar is linked to over 60 ailments such as cancer, diabetes, obesity, heart problems, osteoporosis, kidney problems, asthma and allergies.”

According to the health ministry’s statistics, 11.6 million of the 16 million adults nationwide are sick with a non-communicable disease like diabetes, hypertension or cancer.

“Malaysia has the most overweight and obese people in Asia with 54 percent of the adult population either being obese or overweight,” Idris said.

“CAP calls on the government to work with food manufacturers to avoid sugar in their products,” he added.

“The government should also stop advertisements of highly-sugared drinks and food during children’s television viewing hours, and educate school children and the public on the dangers of excessive sugar intake,” Idris said.

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