People in Singapore less healthy; Covid-19 may worsen situation: National health survey

The Health Ministry will build on ongoing health promotion efforts to push for healthy behaviours in the population. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - People in Singapore are becoming less healthy, with the latest National Population Health Survey showing a concerning uptick in chronic diseases and unhealthy lifestyles.

And the Covid-19 pandemic, which has resulted in people embracing more sedentary lifestyles, is likely to make the situation worse - meaning that more work is needed to make things right.

Among the worrying tends: There was a 50 per cent spike in the number of people with high blood pressure in just two years, going up from 24.2 per cent in 2017 to 35.5 per cent during the eight-month survey period that ended in March last year.

And despite a five-year war on diabetes, Singapore's diabetes prevalence rate went up from 8.8 per cent to 9.5 per cent in the same period.

In addition, fewer people managed to hit the recommended amount of physical activity, even as half the population reported that they got most of their physical activity through commuting.

Binge drinking is also up - from 8.8 per cent to 10.5 per cent - especially among young men.

Men were considered to have been binge drinking if they consumed five or more alcoholic drinks in one session during the past month before the survey was carried out, while women were taken to have done so if they had four or more drinks. One drink is defined as one glass of wine or one measure of spirits. One can of beer is defined as 1½ drinks.

But there are several silver linings.

A third of the population engaged in leisure-time physical activity, a slight uptick from 29.4 per cent in 2017. This refers to physical activity that is done outside of work or commuting.

And cigarette smoking has decreased from 11.8 per cent to 10.1 per cent, following changes to raise the minimum legal age for smoking.

The National Population Health Survey 2020 was carried out between July 2019 and March last year. Around 6,000 people were interviewed. Health examinations for 5,000 people were also conducted over two years.

Its findings are a reminder to Singaporeans to "continue engaging in healthy lifestyle habits amidst the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic", said the Ministry of Health (MOH) in a statement on Thursday (Nov 18).

It added that it will build on ongoing health promotion efforts, such as the National Steps Challenge, to push for healthy behaviours in the population.

For instance, a nationwide campaign to get Singaporeans to reduce salt consumption will be rolled out to combat the sharp increase in high blood pressure levels. The Health Promotion Board is also planning to ramp up efforts to get firms to formulate low-sodium sauces and seasonings, with more details to be released in the coming months.

From the end of next year, beverage companies will also have to introduce a new labelling system so that consumers know how nutritious the drinks are, and no advertisements will be allowed for the most unhealthy drinks.

"Many of these efforts will take time to show longer-term health outcomes, and we will continue to push on with our efforts, such as those under the War on Diabetes," MOH said.

"As health is ultimately a personal responsibility, everyone has a role to play in achieving and sustaining better health of our nation. Individuals can play a part by making conscious decisions towards a healthier lifestyle."

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