PM Lee: Diabetes a 'serious problem'
Singaporeans urged to adopt healthier eating habits
With a family history of diabetes, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong watches his health closely. Twice a year, he does a test for fasting blood sugar.
He exercises every day, picks wholemeal bread over white bread, and drinks tea without sugar and milk.
"But if the dessert is chendol, it cannot be helped. I will just not have too much," he said.
Using himself as an example, Mr Lee encouraged Singaporeans to take the fight against diabetes more seriously.
With one in 10 Singaporeans having diabetes, he said we are "almost world champions" compared with developed countries, and second only to the United States.
For those over 60, like Mr Lee, who is 65, the probability of being diagnosed with diabetes goes up to three in 10.
More young people are also becoming diabetic or overweight. One in 10 five-year-olds are overweight, a condition closely linked to diabetes.
Still, many are not taking diabetes seriously, he said.
"It is precisely because you are not worried that I am worried. It is precisely because many people do not take diabetes seriously that it has become a serious problem," he said in his Mandarin speech, explaining why he decided to talk about diabetes at the rally.
The severity of the problem prompted the Government to declare a war on diabetes in April last year.
Health Minister Gan Kim Yong has formed a diabetes prevention task force, which he co-chairs with Education Minister for Schools Ng Chee Meng.
Since then, the Government has introduced subsidised health screenings, healthier options at hawker centres, and selling only low-sugar drinks in school canteens.
But fighting diabetes starts with making lifestyle changes, said Mr Lee.
"Personal choice and responsibility make all the difference to whether we get diabetes or not, and if we already have diabetes, whether we keep it under control," he said.
Other than regular medical check-ups and more exercise, Mr Lee suggested eating less and eating healthily.
"If you do cook at home, make small changes, like replacing white rice with brown or mixed grain rice," he said.
White rice is bad because it has a high glycaemic index, causing blood sugar levels to shoot up.
He also encouraged Singaporeans to cut down on soft drinks, which contain a lot of refined sugar. A single can contains up to eight cubes of sugar - much more than needed for the entire day.
"Our children are most at risk because soft drinks are part of their lifestyle," he said.
"When a young man takes his girlfriend to the cinema, how can they not buy popcorn and soft drinks?"
Although school canteens sell drinks with low sugar content, high-sugar drinks can be bought from other places like convenience stores.
Countries like Mexico and Brunei have tried a sugar tax while the United Kingdom and Chile have warning labels on drinks with high sugar content.
No one has the solution yet, but we must do something about the problem, said Mr Lee.
"As a first step, we have got the soft drink producers to agree to reduce the sugar in all their drinks sold in Singapore.
This will help. But ultimately, what to drink is a personal choice.
"The best is to drink plain water. Better still, drink PUB water," he said.