Committeeof Supply debate

More effort to promote healthy living habits

Taxi driver Wong Pang Koon, who used to down cans of Red Bull while on the night shift to stay awake, was told by a doctor 20 years ago that he had diabetes. Recently, he developed kidney failure, and now has to undergo dialysis three times a week. M
Taxi driver Wong Pang Koon, who used to down cans of Red Bull while on the night shift to stay awake, was told by a doctor 20 years ago that he had diabetes. Recently, he developed kidney failure, and now has to undergo dialysis three times a week. More than 400,000 Singaporeans have diabetes, and a third of them may not even be aware of the condition.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

The budgets of the Prime Minister's Office, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth were debated yesterday. Here are the highlights. NurtureSG task force set up to encourage people to live healthily from a young age

To stay alert while on the night shift, taxi driver Wong Pang Koon would down an average of five cans of Red Bull - a sugary energy drink - every week. He had a sweet tooth, too, and would often have a bowl of dessert for supper.

But 20 years ago, a doctor told him he had diabetes. Recently, the 62-year-old developed kidney failure, and now has to undergo dialysis three times a week.

"My doctor told me that I was eating too many sweet things and did not exercise enough," recalled Mr Wong. "At the time, I would sleep in the day and at night, I would just go out to drive my taxi. I did not have time to exercise."

Mr Wong is one of more than 400,000 Singaporeans who have diabetes, a third of whom may not even be aware of the condition.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong told Parliament during the debate on his ministry's budget yesterday that his ministry will wage war on the disease, which can lead to complications such as stroke, kidney failure, blindness and amputations. "In fact," said Mr Gan, "four Singaporeans a day lose a limb or appendage due to diabetic related complications."

To stem the rising diabetes numbers, the Ministry of Health will do more to encourage people to live a healthy lifestyle from a young age.

Minister of State for Health Lam Pin Min and Minister of State for Education Janil Puthucheary will lead a task force, NurtureSG, to this end.

The Health Ministry will also step up efforts to screen and identify diabetics, so interventions can take place earlier. And it will help those already diagnosed with the disease to avoid complications and better manage their condition.

"For those with diabetes, we need to do our best to help them have good quality of life, at all stages, by having good control over their disease," Mr Gan said.

NurtureSG will rope in parents, educators, caregivers and the community, and aims to get young people to maintain healthy habits after they leave school and as they enter the workforce.

The health and education ministries will consult the public to get ideas on how to get children and youth to adopt and maintain healthy lifestyles.

The Health Ministry is also reaching out to different groups of workers. It has organised health screenings and deployed health coaches to taxi service centres, so cabbies can check their health when they send their vehicles for servicing every month.

Meanwhile, Mr Wong has managed to take charge of his condition by eating right and trying to lead a more active lifestyle.

He has stopped working the night shift, and his diabetes is under good control and only requires insulin jabs to keep it in check.

"I try my best not to eat too many sweet things now - if I order tea, I will ask for less sugar," he said. "I also do a lot more brisk walking now."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 14, 2016, with the headline 'More effort to promote healthy living habits'. Print Edition | Subscribe