Wanted: Feedback for war on diabetes

Mr Ng (at left) and Mr Gan having a conversation with five-year-old Kayleigh Lim about eating right. The two ministers are co-chairs of the the 16-member Diabetes Prevention and Care Taskforce.
Mr Ng (at left) and Mr Gan having a conversation with five-year-old Kayleigh Lim about eating right. The two ministers are co-chairs of the the 16-member Diabetes Prevention and Care Taskforce.ST PHOTO: MARCUS TAN

Responses to six-month exercise will help in drawing up action plan to be rolled out in 2017

How do you motivate people to eat properly, exercise regularly, watch their weight and stay healthy?

These are the questions that the Diabetes Prevention and Care Taskforce hopes to answer through a six-month crowdsourcing exercise that was launched yesterday.

It is the next step in the "war on diabetes" declared by Health Minister Gan Kim Yong in April.

Feedback from the exercise will go into an action plan that the ministry will roll out in stages next year.

Mr Gan, who heads the 16-member task force with Acting Minister for Education (Schools) Ng Chee Meng, stressed the importance of arresting the spread of diabetes.

 

"Diabetes can lead to serious complications, such as stroke, heart attack, kidney failure and lower limb amputations," he said.

"Today, there are about 400,000 Singaporeans with diabetes... By 2050, about one million Singaporeans will have diabetes if nothing is done."

From now until December, the task force will look at the factors stopping people from leading a healthy lifestyle.

In the first two months of next year, it will seek more detailed feedback on the earlier suggestions.

Apart from reaching out to regular Singaporeans, the task force will speak to representatives from the food-and-beverage industry, academia and non-governmental organisations.

Supporting the task force will be three workgroups, which will offer strategies to get people to live healthier, help existing diabetics manage their condition, and raise public awareness of the chronic disease.

But getting different segments of the community to adopt healthy behaviour can be difficult, said Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob, who is part of the task force.

She recounted how during a food-distribution exercise for needy residents earlier this month, most opted for white rice despite being given the option of healthier brown rice.

"They are mostly senior citizens, and they've grown up eating white rice - that's the only thing they know," said Madam Halimah.

Making sure that people have easy access to healthier options is also critical, she added.

"You go to the hawker centre and the food is mostly oily, salty or very sweet," she said. "Are there alternatives that people can consume so they can eat healthily?"

Endocrinologist Ben Ng of Arden Endocrinology Specialist Clinic said the trick is to help people make changes that they can continue with in the long term.

"The secret is to make sustainable changes that start at the family level," Dr Ng said.

"Simple things like getting the family to exercise together, for example, by making it part of family time."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 25, 2016, with the headline 'Wanted: Feedback for war on diabetes'. Print Edition | Subscribe