Published: Friday December 6, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Friday December 6, 2013 MYT 8:29:55 AM

Sweet anxieties

Let’s not candy-coat it: All the articles and campaigns on the problems of excessive sugar intake have done nothing to slow its relentless consumption each year.

Let’s not candy-coat it: All the articles and campaigns on the problems of excessive sugar intake have done nothing to slow its relentless consumption each year.

Alarmed by the sugar kamikaze course we are on, this writer is suggesting, tongue firmly in cheek, that we set up the Malaysian Diabetes Appreciation Society.

I COULD not help scribbling this down the weekend I had experienced temporary diabetes. I now have a scary idea of how debilitating this insidious disease can be.

How come my diabetes is only temporary? And how did it come about? The latter is easier to answer. I was eating Malay desserts kindly offered to me by the cook herself so I was obliged to eat a rather large portion. And these were confections which were so very, utterly, impossibly sweet that I could almost feel my pancreas twitch nervously with the urgent demand for more insulin. And perhaps, in my old age, the organ wasn’t quite up to the task, because I felt light-headed, giddy, extreme tiredness and even had mild blurred vision for a little while afterwards.

Recognising that things weren’t quite normal, I quickly ingested unsweetened oat porridge, drank lots of water, and lay down for a while. After a while, things returned to normal so I think I may safely (and hopefully) assume that the diabetic episode was only temporary. But I guess, in reality, it means that I am now pre-disposed to getting diabetes if I am not careful.

In that moment, I realised in depth how much refined sugar this country consumes. It is a staggering amount as Malaysia is ranked No.8 in the world rankings of sugar consumption, and No.4 in Asia. In 2012, the country spent RM567mil on subsidising sugar, ensuring that its citizens get a chance to gorge on cheap, under-priced sugar – the stuff is actually cheaper in Malaysia than in the Philippines where much of the sugar we consume is produced.

At least 20% of the population over the age of 30 has diabetes and over 50% are overweight or obese – Malaysia is now the fattest country in the South-East Asian region. That is a crazy, sobering fact, and it is not just the cost in suffering, lost productivity and medical bills. It is also the insidious way people in the country are simply accepting diabetes as some sort of “natural” condition or the “normal” consequence of getting older, rather than doing anything about it.

Not being Malaysian, I asked a Malaysian friend about what would be needed to convince people to stop consuming so much sugar and she said, “When the women get their toes amputated, they might cut down for a while – and the men might slow down the sugar a bit if they cannot get it up any more. But it’s only temporary!” She was smiling when she said it but she wasn’t joking. So the country is well aware of the consequences but apparently quite unable to do anything to wean itself off sugar.

Sweet temptations or sugar troubles? - Filepic
Sweet temptations or sugar troubles? – Filepic

This article won’t solve the problem – lots of other articles and campaigns in the past have done nothing to abate the relentless consumption of more sugar each year.

So, actually, we might as well set up branches of the Diabetes Appreciation Society (DAS) in every town, where people can get free sugary drinks with their super sweet cakes while cheerfully cackling about the latest round of symptoms experienced by everyone.

“Guess what? I had another toe cut off last week,” one might overhear two women talking at their local DAS. “Great news! Now you can wear smaller shoes – your feet will look so dainty-lah!” chirps the other woman. “Aiyah, it’s not so easy-lah! Must learn to balance again when walking.” And then they will both giggle uncontrollably.

For the men at their local DAS, one might hear a man say to his friends, “Alamak, the wife was complaining again last night!” And he might get the reply, “Don’t worry-lah. If it’s not that, she would be whining about something else anyway – women must always find a problem to complain about lah.” And another guy might advise, “For me, it’s easy – I just get a plate of nice kuih from the fridge and we share it together in bed. Then she gets full, forgets about everything, and falls asleep!” “Good idea! Hahahaha!”

Anyway, basically, I am sorry to say that you have been reading an utterly pointless article. Malaysians will never change their excessive sugar consumption habit as they have no reason to slow down.

To this end, the Government will continue to ensure that every citizen has the right to cheap, subsidised sugar – even allowing for the recent cut in the subsidy. Actually, the Government also subsidises cooking oil even more than sugar as it has budgeted RM1.5bil this year for the oil subsidy. So people in this country can eat deep-fried food for every meal combined with an unlimited stream of tooth-numbingly sweet desserts and drinks. And in fact, that is exactly what many, many Malaysian families do every single day.

Therefore, I surmise that it is only a matter of time before the DAS has branches everywhere. If one can’t (or won’t) beat it, then one might as well embrace it.

Tags / Keywords: Lifestyle, Sugar, Diabetes, Malaysian Diabetes Appreciation Society, Diabetes Appreciation Society


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