Giving office workers healthier choices

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Oct 26, 2013

Going for a workout, attending health workshops or eating a nutritious breakfast at the doorstep of the office.

These are among the healthy lifestyle choices available to more than 10,000 workers in Mapletree Business City (MBC), which was designated yesterday by the Health Promotion Board (HPB) as the country's first "healthy workplace ecosystem".

The HPB initiative is part of this year's National Healthy Lifestyle Campaign, and will be expanded nationwide at other working places in future.

HPB's chief executive Zee Yoong Kang said the board has identified another business park to introduce a similar system, possibly in the next year.

To entice workers at MBC - located in Pasir Panjang - to lead a healthier lifestyle, HPB has unveiled a slew of measures under the initiative.

These include discounts for more nutritious food items, exercise sessions and health workshops - mostly for free - and cheaper health screening packages at MBC's clinic for six months. The 20-odd companies there can also tap expert help to design fitness programmes for their staff, or to convert office space into areas for physical activity.

Making healthy choices convenient and affordable is part of the Healthy Living Master Plan that started in March, said Parliamentary Secretary for Health Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, who announced the initiative yesterday.

"We want to replicate this model of a healthy workplace system at other business parks and workplaces," said Associate Professor Faishal, who hopes that it will inspire property developers to take up practices that can promote healthy living.

The launch was timely amid rising obesity rates here. Around 10.8 per cent of all Singaporean adults were considered obese in 2010, surging from 4 per cent in 2004. Working adults in the 18 to 39 age bracket notched the biggest rise in obesity rates over the same period.

Just as worrying is that less than 60 per cent of those aged 30 to 39 meet the recommended guideline of 150 minutes of physical activity a week, according to the latest National Health Survey.

Mr Christopher Snook, country president of Novartis Singapore, which has about 400 employees in the vicinity, said the new measures complement the company's own health programmes. "The benefits are obvious - if we can help in any way to limit chronic diseases, we would have a healthier, and arguably, happier workforce," he said.

Over 90 per cent of stalls at MBC's food court, plus more than half of the eateries in the business park, will sell meals that are less than 500 calories.

Killiney Kopitiam started using wholemeal bread for its kaya toast as the default choice, while Indian food outlet Prata Prata has added wholemeal prata to its menu.

Mr Edmund Koh, who runs the Killiney outlet at MBC, said the chain tried to introduce wholegrain options about two years ago, but demand was lukewarm. But he is more optimistic this time round, having found an oatmeal variety that is as tasty as white bread. Yesterday, about half of its breakfast patrons opted for wholemeal toast, he said.

Prata Prata owner Bibish Meyana said 200 pieces of wholemeal prata were sold on Thursday, out of a total of 400.

Meanwhile, MBC employees can take part in free fitness activities before and after work. Staff can attend weekly "Sunrise in the City" morning workouts organised by the HPB, and can also join the i-Run club for evening runs, ranging from 3km to 7km long, to Labrador Park on Wednesdays.

The HPB will hold free health workshops spanning 24 weeks, covering topics such as maintaining a healthy weight and coping with stress at work.

Having such activities at the workplace motivates people to take the first step towards healthy living, said Ms Tricia Lim, executive director of telecommunications agency NTT Singapore, which hires about 160 staff at MBC. "We can talk all we want about living healthy, but convenience is the most important factor. Otherwise, people will always find excuses not to start," she said.

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Oct 26, 2013

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