S'pore makes progress in war on diabetes but obesity, insufficient physical activity still problems

The prevalence of obesity in Singapore across all ages rose from 8.6 per cent in 2017 to 10.5 per cent last year, Mr Ong Ye Kung noted. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The Republic has made progress in its war on diabetes but obesity and insufficient physical activity are still problems among the population, said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung on Sunday (Nov 14).

The prevalence of obesity in Singapore across all ages rose from 8.6 per cent in 2017 to 10.5 per cent last year, he noted.

"We have also returned to the previous level seen in 2010, after having decreases over the last decade," he said.

Singaporeans consumed on average 12 teaspoons of sugar daily, much more than what is nutritionally required, added Mr Ong, citing the 2018/2019 National Nutrition Survey.

"So while we see some signs of change over the last three years since we waged war on diabetes, it will take time for the changes to percolate throughout the population and show a long-lasting effect," he said.

About 19,000 people here are diagnosed with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes each year.

Diabetes is caused by having too much sugar in the blood.

There are two types of diabetes. Type 1 is genetic and unpreventable. It occurs because the pancreas naturally does not produce enough insulin - a hormone that controls blood glucose levels.

Type 2, related to weight management, is caused by lifestyle factors such as alcohol intake and a lack of exercise.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in his 2017 National Day Rally speech that fighting diabetes is a long-term issue integral to Singapore's future well-being.

Mr Ong noted on Sunday that Covid-19 has affected lifestyles.

"For some Singaporeans, deprived of social activities, their lifestyle may have become more sedentary, which will set us back in the war on diabetes and negate the initial results."

He added that it is now more critical to tackle diabetes as Covid-19 progressively becomes an endemic disease.

Those with diabetes are at higher risk of developing severe Covid-19 complications and poorer health outcomes, he said at an event organised by local charity Diabetes Singapore at the Lifelong Learning Institute to mark World Diabetes Day on Sunday.

One in three individuals in Singapore is at risk of developing the disease in his lifetime, and an estimated one million Singaporeans will have diabetes by 2050 if nothing is done to mitigate the risk.

Mr Ong said the war on diabetes is a long one and any significant results will show up only many years later, but he added that there are already some initial signs of improvement.

Over a quarter of the disease burden - the impact of a health problem - caused by diabetes is due to dietary risk, and half by being overweight, according to the 2019 Global Burden of Disease report for Singapore.

More Singaporeans across all ages are exercising regularly for leisure - at 33.4 per cent last year, up from 29.4 per cent in 2017, noted Mr Ong.

In particular, the proportion of adults aged 50 to 74 who exercised regularly rose from 23.5 per cent in 2017 to 31.4 per cent last year.

Meanwhile, the retail market share of healthier food products sold in supermarkets and retail outlets increased by more than 1½ times to 27 per cent, compared with five years ago.

"This includes low GI (glycaemic index) products which help those at risk and living with diabetes to better manage their blood sugar levels," said Mr Ong.

One in three food and beverage outlets now offers healthier options for dining out, he noted.

The Government will implement mandatory nutrition labels and advertising prohibitions for pre-packaged drinks before the end of next year to help reduce people's intake of sugar and saturated fat.

One in three food and beverage outlets now offers healthier options for dining out, Mr Ong Ye Kung noted. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

Mr Ong added that major manufacturers such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Yeo's, F&N, Pokka, Malaysia Dairy Industries and Nestle have significantly reduced sugar levels in their products since the measures were announced in 2019.

"In response, consumers have shifted to buying healthier versions of the products, or smaller pack sizes," he said.

He added that more people are being screened for diabetes early.

"This is important, because early detection means you have time and the chance to turn things around, reverse the progression of the disease and prevent the development of complications."

About two-thirds of residents aged 40 to 74 were screened from 2017 to 2020 for diabetes, hypertension and hyperlipidaemia within the recommended frequency.

The screening of those aged 40 to 49 rose slightly, from 60.7 per cent in 2017 to 62.5 per cent last year.

Mr Ong also urged those aged 18 to 39 to take the Diabetes Risk Assessment on the HealthHub portal and app to find out if they are at risk of developing the ailment.

A Straits Times report in June quoted doctors as saying that Type 2 diabetes, usually more common in people above the age of 40, is now increasingly diagnosed among teens, as a result of sedentary lifestyles and unhealthy diets.

Mr Ong added that there have been improvements in disease management, with complication rates falling from 2015 to 2019.

The rate of newly diagnosed kidney failure cases fell from 4.2 to 3.6 per 1,000 patients with diabetes.

The rate for severe diabetic retinopathy - that can cause vision loss and blindness - dipped from 6.2 to 4.5, while that for major lower limb amputations decreased from 116 to 66.3 per 100,000 diabetes patients during the same period.

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