Penalise the fat of the land

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Letter from
Liew Kai Khiun, 05:55 AM Nov 11, 2010

PHOTO: Big future ... Health Promotion Board's (HPB) estimates 1 in 10 obese in Singapore

THE alarming revelation by the Health Promotion Board's (HPB) estimates of obesity in one in 10 Singaporeans should serve as a wake-up call over the beginnings of a serious problem that has plagued many First World nations.

In the United States, obesity has cost the country billions in medical bills annually, with an obese person incurring US$1,500 ($1,930) - 41 per cent more than the average non-obese person - a year.

This problem permeates all aspects of life. According to a Washington Post commentary written by two former chairs of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff this April, the US military has to reject 70 per cent of its applicants due to poor fitness levels associated with obesity. "Obesity rates threaten the overall health of America and the future strength of our military," they wrote.

In recent years, I have observed Singaporeans becoming increasingly health conscious, with greater rates of participations in sports and wellness programmes and a move towards a diet with more vegetables, less oil.

Even our national leaders are weighing in, with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last month advising Singaporeans to resist from drinking the tasty but fattening gravy in laksa and satay.

With well-lit, safe park connectors and affordable sports facilities in community centres and sports complexes, it is also more conducive for residents to exercise at any hour of the day.

However, more needs to be done to arrest the problem.

Although the HPB has made commendable efforts to raise public awareness of the benefits of healthy living, I feel the educational programmes should be complemented with a system of cold disincentives on food consumption, similar to the heavy taxes levied on tobacco and alcohol.

This could come in the form of a "health tax" to discourage the consumption of unhealthy foods. In a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in March, researchers estimated that an 18-per-cent increase in the price of junk foods such as soft drinks and pizzas will lead to a corresponding cut of about 56 calories per day, 2kg per year. The revenue earned can in turn be used to subsidise nutritious food like vegetables.

Other possible deterrents include reducing educational subsidies to parents of obese students; curtailing bonuses of obese workers in the civil service; and lowering medical financial assistance afforded to obese patients.

Currently, similar practices are in place in the Singapore Armed Forces, with obese National Servicemen required to undertake additional training. It has also recently linked the continued employment of regular servicemen with their weight and fitness levels.

To complement the system of shame and disincentives, the Government should implement incentives to reward Singaporeans for making the effort to lose weight, such as tax reductions and CPF top-ups.

Regardless of the specifics, it is essential Singapore comes up with a concerted national campaign against fat. We should not be resigned into accepting - or even celebrating - obesity as a normal aspect of life.
Letter from Liew Kai Khiun, 05:55 AM Nov 11, 2010

PHOTO: Should Fat People Pay More for Health Insurance?
Should they pay higher taxes?


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