Health over the years

Students at Hougang Primary School exercising after classes. PHOTO: ST FILE

In 1992, the Ministry of Education launched the Trim and Fit (TAF) scheme to help reduce the overweight and severely overweight levels in schools and pre-universities, and improve the physical fitness of students.

This meant annual fitness tests for all students; TAF clubs in schools with fitness programmes for overweight, severely overweight and unfit students; labels for healthy food in canteens; and a fitness index for each school - based on the percentages of students who passed the National Physical Fitness Award test and students who were within the acceptable weight range.

Between 1993 and 2005, the proportion of overweight and severely overweight primary, secondary and pre-university students shrank from 12 per cent to 10 per cent. But critics said the TAF scheme took an emotional toll on participants.

A study led by National University of Singapore Associate Professor Ho Ting Fei, which The Straits Times in 2005 reported on, suggested a possible indirect link between the TAF scheme and girls developing eating disorders. MOE disputed this, saying eating disorders were complex psychological problems that could not be attributed to a single factor.

In 2007, the TAF scheme was replaced by the Holistic Health Framework that aims to promote physical, mental and social health for students. A series of changes followed:

•In 2007, the Sports Education Programme was started.

•In 2010, the Programme for Active Learning was rolled out to all Primary 1 and 2 pupils.

•In 2011, Physical Education (PE) curriculum time increased by about an hour.

•In 2014, the PE curriculum was modified to ensure students would become proficient in six physical activities, and take part in three competitions at recreational level by the end of secondary school.

•Last year, the National Outdoor Adventure Education Masterplan was announced.

By the end of this year, the Healthy Meals in Schools Programme will be rolled out in all mainstream schools.

Last month, the NurtureSG Taskforce, which promotes the health of children and youth, released a batch of recommendations. These include having more opportunities for physical activities in schools through unstructured play.

The Health Promotion Board data released this year showed that about one in three severely overweight students in secondary schools seen at the Student Health Centre in 2015 had high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol or raised glucose levels.

To provide more support to these students with higher health risks, schools will, from July, roll out a new programme focusing on lifestyle and behavioural changes.

The overweight and severely overweight proportion among students in primary, secondary and pre-university levels rose from 10 per cent in 2010 to 11 per cent in 2011, and to 12 per cent last year.

The severely overweight proportion of such students rose from 3 per cent in 2010 to 4 per cent last year.

Toh Wen Li

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 27, 2017, with the headline Health over the years. Subscribe