'I stopped taking sugar in my coffee 20 years ago': ESM Goh on fighting diabetes

Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong stopped taking sugar in his coffee and cuts down on other food such as sweets but also eats white rice.

SINGAPORE - Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong stopped taking sugar in his coffee 20 years ago, and has gotten so used to the unsweetened drink that it now "tastes very sweet" to him.

He shared this personal habit during a dialogue on Tuesday (Aug 29) night, in response to a woman who asked how she could get her elderly father to stop adding extra sugar to his coffee.

The elder statesman dished out advice on fighting diabetes to more than 500 district councillors, community volunteers and businessmen who work with the South East Community Development Council (CDC).

His light-hearted anecdotes often had the audience guffawing with laughter.

Another woman asked how to nudge the elderly to switch to healthier choices such as brown rice, which might cost more.

The cost of treating diabetes will invariably be higher than the extra cost from eating brown rice, ESM Goh replied.

"So just do the economic analysis and tell your father to eat brown rice, then you save on medication thereafter," he said.

He then quipped, to laughter: "But I can tell you that I also eat white rice."

To compensate, he cuts down on other food such as sweets. Prevention is better than cure, he added.

ESM Goh also advised residents to heed medical advice from their doctors, instead of seeking out "traditional treatments".

He cited one of his constituents, who had both legs amputated due to complications that arose after treatment by a traditional healer in Batam.

Diabetes was a key focus of Tuesday's dialogue, held as part of the annual South East District Meeting. District mayor Maliki Osman and MPs Jessica Tan, Tin Pei Ling and Cheryl Chan also took part in the discussion.

In a speech before the dialogue, Dr Maliki - an MP for East Coast GRC and Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs - highlighted the fight against diabetes as one of the main goals for his CDC.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had devoted a third of his National Day Rally speech to how Singapore should combat the disease.

Dr Maliki said Southeast CDC is training volunteers as "health peers", who can educate the community about making healthier lifestyle choices.

He also outlined the CDC's other goals for the next three years, from boosting social cohesiveness to helping residents skill up to respond to changes in the economy.

South East CDC oversees about half a million people living in Marine Parade GRC, East Coast GRC, and the single-seat wards of Fengshan, Mountbatten and MacPherson.

Dr Maliki also stressed that the CDC has to continue to be a "broker" between the Government and its people, and ensure needs on the ground are met.

This means the CDC needs to act as an intermediary to match government services and community resources with people's needs.

"The message is beyond what the Government can do, the community can do more," he added at the event, held in conjunction with the 20th anniversary of CDCs.

CDCs were a brainchild of ESM Goh, who first mooted them in 1996 when he was Prime Minister as a means to strengthen community bonds and better deliver social programmes.

Over the years, CDCs have "grown in terms of their coverage of services and people", ESM Goh said.

"They have grown deeper into offering services. The programmes are much richer than when CDCs first started," he added.

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