It is an ironic but common fact of life that while parents grow alarmed immediately if their children catch a flu bug, they may not display the same concern over potentially far more serious problems such as obesity. Diabetes and hypertension, serious illnesses that await many later in life, are just two examples of the crucial need to take good health seriously early on in life. Good eating practices that include the avoidance of sugary drinks, snacks and excessive fried food, regular physical activity, and proper rest set in place patterns of healthy living that can become habitual. Early intervention helps to bring up physically strong and mentally buoyant children who can make the most of life in the decades ahead.
It is welcome, therefore, that the proposals of the NurtureSG committee focus on getting children and youth to develop the habits that will help them to grow up healthy. The recommendations, which have been accepted by the Health and Education ministries, say that all pre-school children should have at least an hour of physical activity a day, including time spent in the sun. Their meals will include fruit. Followed through in mainstream schools and institutes of higher learning, good eating practices should contribute to the emergence of a healthier generation.
Encouragingly, the committee looked also at self-harming behaviour and suicide among youth. Its emphasis on mental well-being is one that parents, educators and the young themselves should look at seriously. A degree of stress is unavoidable in an education system geared to excellence, but distress is another matter. It needs to be understood, recognised and treated before it causes harm. In this area, as in the basic routines of eating, resting and exercising, parents must continue the nutritional and physical agenda of educational institutions at home. No matter how busy routines might get, health must come first.