Target fight at obesity

The local health authorities have recently announced plans to tackle the rising trend of diabetes mellitus in Singapore.

I am heartened to learn that one major approach would be the promotion of lifestyle changes that can prevent the onset of the dreaded disease.

Beginning with educational efforts and targeting the young to build lifelong good habits will certainly go a long way in this "war on diabetes".

However, I am concerned that well-meaning health campaigns can be confusing for the public ("Diabetes: The rice you eat is worse than sugary drinks"; last Friday).

To the best of my knowledge, there is no good evidence that "rice is worse than sugary drinks".

There are no human clinical trials that have compared the two on a head-to-head basis to justify this overarching conclusion.

There are indeed a number of studies which have demonstrated an association between rice consumption and an increased risk of diabetes, although the same has been noted with sugary beverages.

The American Diabetes Association website states that one of the myths of diabetes is that "if you have diabetes, you should eat only small amounts of starchy foods". In fact, it also goes on to say that "starchy foods can be part of a healthy meal plan, but portion size is key".

The key message is that eating in excess of energy expenditure increases the risk of diabetes.

It is obesity that has been consistently associated with an increased risk of diabetes. More importantly, weight reduction has been shown to lower the risk of developing the disease and even reverse progression from pre-diabetes to diabetes.

Alvin Ng Choong Meng (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 10, 2016, with the headline 'Target fight at obesity'. Print Edition | Subscribe