'More water coolers' to curb sugary drinks craving

The jury's 'Drink Plain Water' campaign would help stem cravings for sugary drinks, and they promised to install more water coolers at community clubs and cultural institutions.
The jury's 'Drink Plain Water' campaign would help stem cravings for sugary drinks, and they promised to install more water coolers at community clubs and cultural institutions. PHOTO: ST FILE

Suggestion among a dozen from citizen group tasked to come up with ideas to fight diabetes

If the Citizens' Jury had its way, there would be water coolers at hawker centres and higher Medisave claim limits for those managing chronic diseases.

These were among 12 recommendations from the inaugural group, comprising 76 people from different walks of life who were tasked to come up with ideas on how to prevent and manage diabetes in Singapore.

Yesterday, after seven weeks of online discussion and three full-day meetings, the Citizens' Jury presented its report to Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor and other senior civil servants.

Unlike for most government-moderated focus groups in Singapore, which are one-off sessions where the participants do not know if their ideas will be used, Dr Khor promised that her ministry will respond to the group's recommendations within three months.

Some ideas were accepted on the spot. Both Dr Khor and Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth Permanent Secretary Yeoh Chee Yan agreed that the jury's "Drink Plain Water" campaign would help stem cravings for sugary drinks, and they promised to install more water coolers at community clubs and cultural institutions.

The move to crowdsource ideas on tackling diabetes comes as Singapore is waging war on the chronic ailment, which affects one in nine adults here.

  • FIGHT AGAINST DIABETES: SOME OF THE RECOMMENDATIONS

  • •Citizen-led #DrinkPlainWater campaign to make water more accessible, cut liquid calories.

    •Popularise Health Promotion Board's "My Healthy Plate" guidelines to raise awareness about healthy eating.

    •Incentivise stair-climbing to encourage more active lifestyle.

    •Form a peer support group to link patients who have controlled their diabetes and their caregivers with newly diagnosed patients.

    •Promote healthy cooking via activities such as cooking classes.

    •Raise awareness of online patient support groups to give guidance on managing diabetes.

    •Raise the Medisave claim limit from $450 to $700 for those under the Chronic Disease Management Programme.

    •Set up a rewards system to motivate patients to take better care of themselves.

    •Increase awareness, motivation to eat healthy food in schools.

Diabetes is a major risk factor in heart attacks, stroke and blindness. It can also cause gangrene, which may later require amputations, as well as kidney failure.

Dr Khor said the jurors gave the Government "insights about some of the gaps in our policies". She later told reporters that the jury model - a form of deliberative engagement borrowed from countries such as Australia - would be a useful way for the Government to work with citizens to co-create and co-deliver solutions.

Among the jurors was retired business manager Christina Tan, 65, a diabetic and breast cancer survivor.

She joined the jury in the hope that its recommendations would eventually lead to the creation of a peer support group for newly diagnosed patients, to help them manage their illness better. This recommendation was included in the report.

"There are a lot of resources worldwide, but Singapore has its own context, food culture and customs. I hope the recommendation will kick something off," she said.

Another participant was nutritionist Kalpana Bhaskaran, who is also vice-president of the Diabetes Society.

She said the experience helped her realise that "what we experts might think is common knowledge isn't necessarily the case". This in turn would shape the way her society carries out programmes and educational campaigns.

Dr Carol Soon, senior research fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies, which ran the jury alongside the Health Ministry, said the level of engagement is something worth noting.

"The promise of a response from the Government reinforces to the participants the value and significance of their contributions, so they know it is not just going to be another talk shop," she said.

Nine in 10 participants said they would be keen to contribute more actively to combating diabetes, noted Dr Khor, who said she looked forward to getting some of them on board to implement their suggestions.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 14, 2018, with the headline ''More water coolers' to curb sugary drinks craving'. Print Edition | Subscribe