KUALA LUMPUR: A “sin tax” that will see higher prices for sugary drinks is being studied by the Health Ministry as a measure to address the high number of diabetics in the country.
Health director-general Datuk Seri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said the ministry would come up with some evidence from a study in two months’ time.
He said soft drinks and other sweet beverages in the market contained high sugar content. Reducing people’s exposure to them was one strategy to address the high number of diabetics.
“We will look at the sugar content in these beverages and see what other countries are doing about it and how best we can implement some of these measures,” he told a press conference after the official opening of the 5th National Diabetes Conference 2014 yesterday.
Dr Noor Hisham said the ministry was also thinking of discouraging sweet drinks at ministerial meetings, starting with its own ministry.
Among the countries which have implemented fiscal measures on sweet beverages were Denmark, Hungary and Mexico, which had increased the prices of sweetened beverages or added a “sin tax”, he said.
Dr Noor Hisham said Malaysia was spending 4.6% of its gross domestic product on healthcare and was concerned whether this was sustainable in view of the high number of non-communicable disease (NCDs) complications.
“Most important is the need for a change of mindset among Malaysians,” he said.
He said 2.6 million or 15.2% of adults aged 18 and above in Malaysia were diabetic.
“Each of them faces a higher risk of diabetes related complications such as heart attack, stroke, peripheral vascular disease, kidney failure, loss of vision, nerve damage, coma, and diabetic foot that could lead to amputation.
“While such complications can be prevented, if not delayed, their prevalence is high,” he said.
More than 60% of diabetics die from blood vessel diseases, 40% from heart attacks and about 15% of heart failure and 10% from stroke, he said.
Dr Noor Hisham said the root source of such fatalities was patients’ lack of willingness to practise good diabetes management. He also said health professionals should help patients overcome their limitations and counsel them.
The current status of diabetes management in Malaysia was still not satisfactory, with a study revealing that only a third of over 6,000 people with diabetes saying they were taught proper diabetes management, he said.