Skip to main content

Advertisement

Advertisement

Sugar? No thanks: Patrons opt for healthier option when asked to sweeten beverages themselves

SINGAPORE — Ever since the drinks stall she works at started serving freshly brewed coffee and tea sugar-free — placing sugar on the side for patrons to help themselves instead — Ms Ma Hong Yen observed that many patrons have opted to go without sugar instead.

Singapore General Hospital’s Kopitiam food court is among the first to support the sugar-free policy. Photo: Kelly Ng/TODAY

Singapore General Hospital’s Kopitiam food court is among the first to support the sugar-free policy. Photo: Kelly Ng/TODAY

Follow us on Instagram and Tiktok, and join our Telegram channel for the latest updates.

SINGAPORE — Ever since the drinks stall she works at started serving freshly brewed coffee and tea sugar-free — placing sugar on the side for patrons to help themselves instead — Ms Ma Hong Yen observed that many patrons have opted to go without sugar instead.

Sugar consumption has fallen by about a third at Singapore Polytechnic’s (SP) Food Court 3 since the initiative started last August. Ms Ma now buys about four 20kg sacks of sugar per month, down from six previously.

“This has helped cut sugar consumption significantly… Now, even the students drink their beverages kosong (sugar free) more frequently,” said the 45-year-old, who is employed by food court operator Food Paradise.

Food Court 3 is one of the six food courts in SP that are leading the way in supporting the Health Promotion Board’s (HPB) healthier drinks policy, which includes serving freshly brewed drinks without sugar. Various cafes at the institution have also done the same.

All government offices, as well as some premises such as parks, sports facilities, and community centres, will follow suit from May, as the Republic ramps up its war against diabetes.

Under this healthier drinks policy announced by the Government on Wednesday (March 7), beverages from vending machines, food and beverage outlets, and retail stores at these premises must also meet lower-in-sugar guidelines advocated by the Healthier Choice Symbol.

Studies have shown that providing sugar as an option, rather than automatically including them in beverages, is effective in cutting down one’s sugar intake.

A week-long trial conducted at a public canteen on the HPB’s premises last August showed a whopping 75 per cent drop in amount of sugar used when patrons had to help themselves. On average, patrons used about half a teaspoon of sugar per hot drink, compared to two teaspoons previously.

“Most (patrons) were satisfied with their drink without added sugar, and those who preferred it with sugar were more conscious about the amount added… Most consumers surveyed supported extending the policy to other premises,” said the HPB’s spokesperson, in response to TODAY’s queries.

To help shape behaviours, many of the outlets have put up health-advocating posters. “Try it kosong — your future healthier self will thank you for it,” read one of the posters placed in HPB’s canteen during the trial.

A poster at SP’s Food Court 3 says: “Please help yourself with the sugar. You’re sweet enough already.”

This year, coffee shop operator Kopitiam started serving freshly-prepared drinks without sugar at its outlets at Changi General Hospital, KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, and Singapore General Hospital (SGH). Sugar-free coffee and tea without milk are 20 cents cheaper than the sweetened versions. “This is in line with the healthier drinks policy… We took it one step further to price these (sugar-free) drinks lower,” said Mr Vincent Cheong, the operator’s spokesman.

The chain will roll out the practice to its outlet at Ng Teng Fong General Hospital from Monday. It has no data at this point to determine how and whether sugar consumption has changed.

At its SGH outlet, sugar crystals in squeeze bottles and syrup jars are placed at the side. During lunch time on Thursday, TODAY observed that about half — 16 out of 30 patrons over a 45-minute period — who ordered fresh brews added sugar to their drinks.

Patrons whom TODAY spoke to were divided on whether the self-serve approach would help them cut their sugar intake.

Ms June Ho, a business analytics lecturer at SP, said the initiative has helped her do away with sugar. “I’d usually ask for my drinks to be ‘less sweet’, but now I just don’t add any sugar because I’d feel guilty about it,” said Ms Ho, who is in her 50s.

SP business and engineering student Wayne Loh said: “It really depends on the individual. If you like it sweet, you might even add more (sugar) than what would go into a typical cup.”

The Government is also studying sugar-reduction measures that have proven to be successful in other countries, such as the United Kingdom’s “traffic light” labelling system — red indicates that the product is high in fat, sugars or salt; amber makes it an “okay” choice; while green denotes healthier options.

The French authorities also use a colour-coded scheme, dubbed the Nutri-Score, to denote nutritional content of various food items.

The MOH will consult the public after studying various options, Parliamentary Secretary for Health Amrin Amin said in Parliament on Wednesday, in response to Members of Parliaments’ (MPs) concerns that the current Healthier Choice Symbol can sometimes be a misnomer.

Sembawang GRC MP Vikram Nair, for instance, suggested having manufacturers label food products’ sugar content in full.

“Some things that are labelled ‘healthier choice’ may not, in fact, be healthy. In fact, I think milo is also considered ‘healthier choice’… Likewise, I think many breakfast cereals which have lots of sugar are also labelled ‘healthier choice’…I think it may be good to have absolute standards,” said Mr Nair in Parliament.

Chua Chu Kang GRC MP Yee Chia Hsing aired similar concerns: “One of my friends told me his son became more chubby after going to school, because he discovered this thing called ‘iced milo dinosaur’. To those of us who are unfamiliar, ‘iced milo dinosaur’ is iced milo with a heap of raw milo powder.”

“I hope MOH can work with the schools to eliminate this abnormality,” Mr Yee added, drawing laughter from the House.

Read more of the latest in

Advertisement

Popular

Advertisement

Stay in the know. Anytime. Anywhere.

Subscribe to get daily news updates, insights and must reads delivered straight to your inbox.

By clicking subscribe, I agree for my personal data to be used to send me TODAY newsletters, promotional offers and for research and analysis.