Budget debate: Ong Ye Kung once neglected health and had high cholesterol

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SINGAPORE - He is now the health minister - but in his younger days, Mr Ong Ye Kung did not take good care of his health and ended up with high cholesterol levels.

He shared his personal journey in Parliament during the debate on his ministry's budget on Wednesday (March 9).

"Many doctors whom I have spoken to have always wondered: How did a patient become so stricken with chronic illnesses? Why didn't he make lifestyle adjustments when he was younger? Why did he leave it till too late?

"I can relate to the inaction," he said.

Mr Ong, who is now in his 50s, added that when he was in his 30s and 40s, he did not feel the need to take care of his health.

When a friend of his, who was a doctor, asked him to go for a health screening, it turned out that he had high levels of cholesterol. Further tests revealed a very small calcium deposit in one of the arteries in his heart.

"On his advice, I started taking some medication and adjusted my diet... I had to cut down chilli crabs, prawns... Eat in moderation, certainly not deprivation," he said.

Mr Ong added that these days, his readings are fine.

"More importantly, because of early intervention, I have probably averted a major heart bypass surgery when I become old, or worse, a heart attack that may kill me and distress my family and my loved ones."

He noted that while medical technology and heroics in the operating theatre are an important part of better healthcare, good health is more likely to come from "an accumulation of the humdrum and the mundane".

Mr Ong said it is more important to maintain health rather than treat sickness, and such measures must be taken early, when the person is still healthy.

"It must identify the risk factors in our lives that will erode our health slowly and quietly and then address these factors. It must be done in homes and community, not in hospitals and clinics," he added.

Mr Ong said such a strategy is best centred on family doctors, who must become the most important anchor of the healthcare system.

"I have been lucky to have a highly trained and well-meaning doctor friend who nagged me and helped me. We hope everyone will have such a friend too - a family doctor to advise and nag us to do what is right for our long-term health and our family.

"We want to make it easier and affordable for everyone to stay healthy," he added.

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