Adults here fitter but kids gaining weight

Kindle Garden kindergarten children being taken on an educational tour of Giant supermarket in Tampines by a facilitator from creative educator My Messy Box as part of Giant's Goodness Gang campaign, which aims to get children to eat more healthily.
Kindle Garden kindergarten children being taken on an educational tour of Giant supermarket in Tampines by a facilitator from creative educator My Messy Box as part of Giant's Goodness Gang campaign, which aims to get children to eat more healthily.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Important to inculcate healthy habits from young: Amy Khor

Adults in Singapore have become fitter, but children here are getting fatter, based on latest figures from the Ministry of Health (MOH).

Last year, 36.2 per cent of Singaporeans aged 18 to 69 were overweight - a drop from 2010, when a national survey found 40.1 per cent of adults here overweight.

In contrast, 13 per cent of children in mainstream schools were overweight last year, a slight rise from 11 per cent in 2011.

Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor revealed the figures yesterday in a speech that highlighted the importance of inculcating healthy habits in the young.

"An unhealthy body weight in childhood is likely to persist and progress later in life, leading to an increased risk of conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke."

The improved weight status for adults runs counter to the trend of higher calorie intake here.

Six in 10 Singaporeans ate more calories daily than what is recommended, according to the Health Promotion Board last year.

An adult man requires about 2,200 calories a day, while an adult woman needs about 1,800 calories.

  • OVERWEIGHT RATES OF S'POREANS AGED 18 TO 69

  • 30.4% 
    In 1998.

  • 32.5% 
    In 2004. 40.1% In 2010.

  • 36.2%
    In 2017.

In Singapore, a person with a body mass index of 25 and above is deemed to be overweight. Anything above 30 is considered obese.

On a brighter note, people seem to be more health conscious when it comes to grocery shopping these days. Supermarkets have reported better sales for products marked with the Healthier Choice symbol.

FairPrice, for instance, said sales of such products have risen by about 40 per cent from 2013 to 2016. Dairy Farm chief executive Mark Herbert said 40 per cent of Giant's sales come from fresh produce.

Clinical and sports dietitian Jaclyn Reutens also noted the encouraging trend of her clients becoming more health conscious, with more people choosing healthier food options and participating in runs or using step-trackers.

Dr Benedict Tan, chairman of Exercise is Medicine Singapore, a programme which aims to make physical activity a standard part of preventing and treating diseases, said the latest weight figures indicate that national initiatives to promote healthier lifestyles are working.

An example is the Healthy Meals in Schools Programme, which trains canteen vendors to prepare healthier meals for students.

The Government also set up the NurtureSG task force in 2016, which makes recommendations to improve health outcomes among youth. Dr Khor yesterday also officiated the launch of Giant's Goodness Gang campaign, which aims to get children to eat more healthily via fun activities and collectible toys.

Dr Tan said such initiatives had helped to instil good exercise and dietary habits among the public, as well as to raise their awareness on the need and ways to stay healthy.

Though the picture seems slightly less rosy for the younger generation, Dr Tan noted that obesity is a growing trend worldwide.

"Because there's such a major surge (in obesity rates) across the world, if we hold steady, it's already an achievement. But in absolute terms, of course we can do better."

For example, children could be made to take up at least one sport co-curricular activity in school, suggested the former national sailor.

The best strategy to combat the trend, said Dr Khor, is through prevention. "Studies have shown that the dietary habits of children are formed well before the age of five. Thus, the development of healthy habits must begin from young, and sustained through to adulthood."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 15, 2018, with the headline 'Adults here fitter but kids gaining weight'. Print Edition | Subscribe