War on diabetes

National Day Rally 2017: Beating diabetes starts with small steps, says PM Lee

SPH Brightcove Video
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong highlighted the importance of fighting diabetes in his National Day Rally speech. Here are his tips on living a healthy lifestyle.

Eat right, exercise more, get your health checked regularly and think twice about picking up that can of soft drink.

These are Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's words of advice to Singaporeans who want to beat diabetes.

"It takes effort and discipline, but it can be done," he told the audience during yesterday's National Day Rally, where he devoted a third of his time to speaking about the chronic illness.

Mr Lee, who has a family history of the disease, said winning the war against diabetes often starts with the little things.

"Genes play a part, but your choices make a difference," he said, sharing how he tries to make healthier choices in everyday life.

"Wholemeal bread instead of white bread. Teh-o kosong instead of teh.

"But if the dessert is chendol, it can't be helped. I will just take a little bit."

SPH Brightcove Video
Do you know how much sugar there is in popular local drinks? The amount might surprise you.

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    Get regular medical check-ups.


    Exercise more.


    Eat less and eat healthily.


    Cut down on soft drinks.

The average Singaporean can expect to live up to the age of 82 - among the longest lifespans in the world.

But many will spend around eight years of this time in poor health, with the culprit often being diabetes, Mr Lee said.

While diabetes is often a silent illness, its complications - which range from kidney failure to blindness and even impotency in men - can prove debilitating.

Roughly 400,000 Singapore residents have diabetes.

A significant proportion of them do not even know it.

Diabetes also becomes more prevalent as people age, and is estimated to affect nearly a third of Singaporeans aged over 60.

The Government alone cannot solve this problem, Mr Lee said. It is a matter of personal responsibility.

The first thing people should do is find out where they stand by going for regular medical check-ups.

These do not have to be expensive. From next month, nearly two million Singaporeans can get a basic health screening for $5 or less under the enhanced Screen for Life programme.

This was first announced in March, during the debate on the Health Ministry's budget.

"Don't take the attitude that it is better not to know," Mr Lee said. "You must want to know, because if you know about your condition, you can do something about it."

Do not sit on the results, he added, but see a doctor about any red flags in the medical report.

Apart from prescribing medication, the chances are your doctor will advise you to eat healthy and exercise more as well, Mr Lee said.

Ideally, people should get at least 150 minutes of physical activity a week - whether it is from a dance class or a Zumba session.

Failing that, walking at least 10,000 steps a day can be an alternative goal.

For instance, why not walk to the MRT station rather than take a bus, Mr Lee suggested.

Alternatively, climb the stairs rather than wait for a lift. "Let's all make the effort to walk a little bit more and work it into our daily routine," he said.

All the audience members yesterday received a free steps tracker from the Health Promotion Board (HPB), which is spearheading the national effort to get people up and moving.

According to one of its recent studies, more Singaporeans are hitting the target of 150 minutes of physical activity weekly.

But this is not enough to offset the growing amount of calories they consume.

In 1998, Singaporeans ingested around 2,100 calories a day.

But by 2004, they were downing 300 extra calories daily. This is equivalent to two scoops of ice cream, Mr Lee said.

And in 2010, the average daily intake had gone up by a further 200 calories - that is, a third scoop of ice cream and toppings.

"To burn off these three extra scoops of ice cream, you need to run more than an hour every day," Mr Lee said. "Most of us don't do that, so obesity has gone up."

SPH Brightcove Video
Do you know how much sugar is in that chendol or tau suan? This video might help you choose a healthier sweet treat.

A final target of Mr Lee's speech was soft drinks and sugar.

These drinks contain refined sugar, which is bad for a person and can increase the risk of diabetes.

This problem is especially tricky because drinking such sugary beverages can become an ingrained habit from a young age, he said. "Our children are most at risk because soft drinks are part of their lifestyle."

The Government has worked with soft drink makers to get them to reduce the sugar of all the drinks sold in Singapore. More details will be released later.

"But ultimately, what to drink is a personal choice," Mr Lee said. "The best is to drink plain water."


PM Lee's healthy tips to fight diabetes. http://str.sg/PMtips

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 21, 2017, with the headline National Day Rally 2017: Beating diabetes starts with small steps, says PM Lee. Subscribe