SINGAPORE - A trial programme aimed at tackling obesity teaches pre-school children to eat according to how hungry they are instead of how much food there is or being pressured to finish their meals.
The trial, which was mentioned at a child development conference on Thursday, is being carried out at six childcare centres in Singapore. It involves 205 children aged between three and six, and their caregivers.
The Appetite Toolbox (ATB) programme was developed from the findings of the Growing Up In Singapore Towards Healthy Outcomes (Gusto) study. This longitudinal study showed that larger serving sizes, eating faster and impulsive eating are associated with increased food intake and the likelihood of developing an unhealthy body weight during the pre-school years.
ATB, a partnership between A*Star Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences, the Centre for Holistic Initiatives for Learning and Development (Child), and PCF Sparkletots, is an example of how research is being translated into practice to benefit children.
At the launch of the inaugural Child Conference on Thursday, Minister for Social and Family Development and Second Minister of Health Masagos Zulkifli said the research and efforts in child health and development come amid a shift in focus towards preventive care, among other things.
“Instead of waiting for problems to arise, we step in early... Intervening when there are early signals, warning signs, before they snowball into bigger problems later,” he said.
“To do so, we need to be informed by research so that we can plan our interventions towards effective outcomes.”
When it comes to supporting children and their families, efforts cut across health and social domains, while programmes are designed to support families, and not just the individual, said Mr Masagos.
At a fireside chat during the conference on Thursday, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Health Rahayu Mahzam said research such as the Gusto findings on how portion size and speed of eating can impact obesity can be turned into bite-sized information to help parents teach their children healthy eating habits.
Apart from the knowledge, collaboration is key, she said.
“To truly have collaboration, we need to... look holistically, understand the ecosystem, who are the players in the ecosystem, what is available, what is the true gap, and what is the true value that we can bring into that space,” she added.
At the same fireside chat, Minister of State for Home Affairs and Social and Family Development Sun Xueling said families spend a lot on tuition when their children go to primary school, but the early years of life are actually a critical window of development.
She highlighted the research from Gusto that showed that infants who watch more than two hours of television a day have lower-than-average IQs, and said emphasis should be placed on pre-school learning.
“It’s about how we’re encouraging our children to learn – outdoor play, being creative, having more free time of their own... learning through interacting with other children. It’s not about… learning multiplication tables in the early years,” said Ms Sun.
Child, a multi-agency effort set up in 2020, brings together experts from across a range of disciplines, including health, education, sociology, psychology, artificial intelligence and data analytics, to put the findings in the Gusto study into practice.
Its inaugural biennial conference, held at the Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel, is a platform for early childhood stakeholders to discuss challenges and solutions.
Professor Adrian Sandler, executive director of Child, which is based at NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, said on Thursday: “We aim to speak for the science of child development, to accelerate the translation of research into policy and practice and to improve outcomes especially for the disadvantaged.”
The conference ends on Friday.