'Coach Potato': School's new health mascot teaches better lifestyle habits

Students from Paya Lebar Methodist Girls' School (Secondary) taking a group photograph with the official campaign mascot P.E.Z, which stands for passionate, energetic and zealous, during recess on Apr 24, 2019.
Students from Paya Lebar Methodist Girls' School (Secondary) taking a group photograph with the official campaign mascot P.E.Z, which stands for passionate, energetic and zealous, during recess on Apr 24, 2019.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - A blushing potato has been adopted as the new health mascot for Paya Lebar Methodist Girls School (Secondary).

P.E.Z - which stands for passionate, energetic and zealous - is a couch potato striving to become a healthier, active one.

The brainchild of four Secondary 3 students, P.E.Z appears in posters and educational videos as part of the school's new health campaign which has been launched in collaboration with the National Healthcare Group (NHG).

The girls struggled to juggle the project with other commitments but group member Turaba Alam, 15, said they took up the challenge because "we want people to make this change".

The school held a pledge-taking event on Wednesday (April 24) with students committing to reduce sugar intake and increase physical activity.

Between 11 and 13 per cent of the school's 1,300 students are overweight and part of the health plan is to get them to drink 15,000 litres of water within three weeks - around 11 litres per student.

The school is among the first of around 20 that NHG is partnering to promote health literacy and awareness, and the campaign has shown promising results since its launch in January.

Dr Audrey Tan, senior consultant of population health at the National Healthcare Group, said: "Embracing healthy habits from young is important because it not only reduces the risk of health problems later on in life, it is also harder to modify behaviours once youths develop certain lifestyle habits when they grow older."

Students participated in a sugar-free cooking competition and a drinks challenge to consume beverages containing less than 5.5 grams of sugar.

Teachers say that students have been receptive, turning out for the health events even though they are not compulsory, while the school's drink stall vendor said he sees two or three students switching to low sugar drinks each week.

NHG has also partnered with non-profit organisation Care Singapore (CareSG) to train 30 of the school's students to be health ambassadors.

Each class volunteer spent two hours learning nutritional facts and communication skills to help them pass on health advice to their peers.

School principal Quek Li Gek said: "Students involved in the development of the campaigns see themselves as change-makers."

Health ambassador Jesslyn Chng, 15, said: "Our presentations make a lot of difference because we try to choose topics that are relatable to students."

Sabrina Ho, manager of population health at Living Well Office under the NHG, said the campaign aims to take a "more holistic approach" to promoting healthy behaviour.