Get ranking-obsessed S'poreans hooked on calorie scores

A “Guideline Daily Amount” product label on a product's packaging, detailing the amount of calories and nutrients in the product, as well as the contribution to an adult’s recommended daily intake, as a percentage.
A “Guideline Daily Amount” product label on a product's packaging, detailing the amount of calories and nutrients in the product, as well as the contribution to an adult’s recommended daily intake, as a percentage. PHOTO: MYPAPER FILE

With obesity and diabetes rates escalating, the only sustainable solution is to focus on aggressive early prevention.

It is common knowledge that obesity is the result of excessive calorie input (overeating) combined with low calorie output (lack of exercise).

I believe calorie-counting is still a very remote concept here, even among health-conscious adults.

How many of us know that walking 10,000 steps daily can burn off 400 kcal to 500 kcal? Indeed, running 7km in 42 minutes can burn off 447 kcal, but eating a typical plate of nasi lemak will add 494 kcal.

Such information is available on the Health Ministry's Health Hub website, but we need to raise awareness so that people can act on it.

It is time to initiate a nationwide calorie-labelling campaign so that consumers are empowered to make conscious decisions on their food choices.

Currently, calorie information is included on the labels of some food. This information should be extended to all food and beverages, whether in supermarkets, convenience stores, hawker centres, bakeries, restaurants or hotels.

Schools should teach how many calories can be burnt with each type of exercise, and imbue in students the importance of striving to be calorie-neutral.

We could leverage our students and parents' obsession with numbers and rankings, and get them to start comparing calorie counts instead of examination scores. This would be a big deterrent to picking up the next can of carbonated beverage, nibbling on snacks or tucking into fast food.

To win the war against obesity and diabetes, we need to rewire all our soldiers to become battle-ready from a young age.

Schools and parents should take ownership of this and make it a way of life for Generation Z and beyond.

Li Ze Zong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 16, 2016, with the headline 'Get ranking-obsessed S'poreans hooked on calorie scores'. Print Edition | Subscribe