Rising obesity among young set to worsen diabetes rate in Singapore

Experts warn that 34% of those aged 24 to 35 this year may become diabetic by age 65

Rising obesity in children and young adults will push up the rate of diabetes here - already among the highest in the developed world. PHOTO: DIET ZON

Rising obesity in children and young adults will push up the rate of diabetes in Singapore - already among the highest in the developed world - going by recent studies.

Professor Chia Kee Seng, dean of the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, said 34 per cent of people aged 24 to 35 this year can expect to be diabetic by the time they are 65, based on projections.

Overall, diabetes rates have risen, from 8.6 per cent of the adult population in 1992 to 11.3 per cent in 2010. This would have gone up to 12.9 per cent by last year, said epidemiologists at the school under the National University of Singapore. They study the patterns, causes and effects of health and disease conditions in the population.

Prof Chia told The Straits Times that obesity has been rising at a faster rate in people below age 40, and a major reason is "a big drop in physical activity" when people start working. He said: "It is important for those in their 20s to recognise that the dramatic lifestyle changes as they enter working life will have very significant health impact when they are in their 60s."

Although they become less active as working adults, most people continue to eat the same amount of food, or even more as they have higher disposable income.

To make matters worse, obesity in schoolchildren has risen - from 11 per cent in 2013 to 12 per cent in 2014, said the Education Ministry. In 2000, it was 10 per cent.

The Education Ministry said that for some children, there is a cycle of weight gain during long holidays followed by weight loss during term time as a result of physical activities and weight-management programmes in school.

Stallholders in school canteens have been encouraged to use healthier ingredients, and drinks have to meet the Health Promotion Board's (HPB's) reduced-sugar requirement.

An HPB spokesman said childhood obesity is an international public health concern as it increases the risk of adult obesity. On the positive side, she said, schoolchildren are now eating more fruit and greens. In 2012, only one in five consumed at least two servings each of fruit and vegetables a day. Last year, almost half did so.

She added that almost half of the more than 6,000 overweight primary and secondary school children who took part in its programmes were able to bring their weight down to a healthy level.

The World Health Organisation released the final report from its Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity last month. The report expects the number of fat children to balloon from 42 million in 2013 to 70 million by 2025.

It warns: "Obese infants and children are likely to continue being obese during adulthood and are more likely to develop a variety of health problems as adults."

These include diabetes, heart disease, stroke, joint problems and a higher risk of getting endometrial, breast and colon cancers.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 22, 2016, with the headline Rising obesity among young set to worsen diabetes rate in Singapore. Subscribe