Health for all in the 21st century is not just about transforming healthcare systems. It must start with the personal decision to take responsibility for one's health. An important part of this effort is regular health screening to help nip problems in the bud. As cost is a factor when making such decisions, the use of state funds to subsidise mass screening - under the Enhanced Screen for Life programme - makes sense. Early detection of chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels permits their better management and helps to stave off costly interventions later. That has a bearing not only on public healthcare spending trends but also on people's well-being and ability to work and enjoy life.
Given the diabetes epidemic sweeping Singapore and other countries in Asia, where urbanisation has transformed lifestyles, it would be folly to imagine that one can somehow duck this scourge, despite taking no preventive action. Unlike their counterparts in less developed countries, Singaporeans have access to health promotion information and activities, and to screening options to determine if they are at risk. Not making full use of these services would be to squander precious opportunities to safeguard one's health.
Many individuals who feel healthy have little interest in screening, for fear of bad news they are ill-prepared for. Some might not have any desire to curb indulgences that give them comfort. The price to be paid for such neglect could be heavy.
Screening aside, the larger goal must be to build mass momentum for a comprehensive suite of behaviour changes that encompass diet, exercise and sufficient rest - leading to healthier lifestyles nationwide. If this becomes the norm, such public behaviour can be mutually reinforcing.
While a top-down approach alone won't do, as the key to success is when individuals take charge of their own health, there is much that agencies can do to ensure public messaging on this subject is carefully crafted for optimum impact. The Prime Minister provided a boost in his National Day Rally speech when he cast a healthy lifestyle and chronic disease prevention as national priorities. The public conversation must dwell on these matters as much as on, say, new discoveries and high-tech procedures, important as the latter might be to those who are afflicted by disease.
With prevention as the focus, businesses and community groups ought to help different groups take proactive steps to mind their health. That can extend to both everyday activities and special events. For example, how can the daily barriers to healthy eating be lowered? And why should putting healthy options on a festive menu be regarded as not befitting a celebration? When creativity is applied, all choices can be made interesting and enjoyable. Then, healthy dishes won't appear out of place at a banquet table.