Obesity Epidemic – Can America learn from Singapore TAF programme?

It is sad to read headline news recently like this one in the Philadelphia Inquirer Americans getting ever fatter. In most states, a new report says, 1 in 5 is obese. But little is being done about it“.

This came right after Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) released the report “F as in Fat: How Obesity Policies are Failing in America, 2007”.

Notwithstanding some experts think the estimates in the report are conservative because people are underreporting their weight in surveys, 85% of the Americans surveyed believed obesity has become a public health epidemic. Yet it seems that most Americans aren’t doing much about it and they are not only getting fatter, but they are actually getting fatter faster.

The unfortunate young generation

Washington Post reported that “A new report gives District (Washington DC) children a dubious distinction: Nearly one in four of those ages 10 to 17 is overweight, making them the heaviest kids in the country.

In the Los Angeles Times, Jim Marks, a senior vice president of a healthcare philanthropy group was reported that he was so discouraged that “These children could be the first generation to live sicker and die younger than their parents“.

Obesity costs America US$117 billion a year in preventable healthcare expenditures and Mark said that it “is pushing the healthcare system to the breaking point“.

How can it so high and still growing when corrective measures at the local and state levels have been implemented? Example, nine of the states with the highest percentages of overweight kids track the MBI (body mass index) of students, improve the nutrition of school lunches or limit the sale of high-calorie foods in school vending machines or snack bars.

However, it seems that the desired effect is doubtful. Weeks ago, I watched a documentary on Singapore TV station, Channelnews Asia in which one of the experts commented that although American schools provide healthy meals, kids are flocking to the vendor machines filled with irresistible unhealthy snacks and beverages. It also showed that young teenagers are getting diabetes and are experiencing heart diseases.

Should America learn from Singapore ?

Although being criticized from time to time even by foreign media, Singapore’s TAF (Trim and Fit) programme which was launched in 1992 by the Ministry of Education (MoE) and refined through the years have reduced the percentage of overweight students (primary schools to pre-university levels) from 14% to 9.8% in 2002.

No system is perfect but the result has been impressive. Many children have emerged from the TAF Programme fitter and more aware of the importance of keeping a healthy lifestyle; and the number of students passing the Singapore government’s National Award for Physical Fitness (NAPFA) test went up from 58% in 1992 to 82% in 2002.

MoE works with the Health Promotion Board (School Tuckshop Programme), school canteen operators and parents closely to make the “TAF programme a more meaningful part of school life, with due emphasis on the physical, nutritional and psychological aspects. It will work with schools to introduce activities and programmes that are inclusive, fun-filled and interesting for all students, so that they take pride and ownership in their own health and physical well-being.”

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