HPB


The recent media report revealing the statistics from the nationwide Student’s Health Survey done between April and August 2006 by the Singapore Health Promotion Board (HPB) reminded me of a couple of sayings on statistics.

Like Aaron Levenstein and Storm P said Statistics are like bikinis.  What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital” and “Statistics are like lampposts: they are good to lean on, but they don’t shed much light“, indeed, the statistics reported on the media is so little and there is nowhere on the HPB website to see the details.

Another saying by Evan Esar that statistics is the only science that enables different experts using the same figures to draw different conclusions.

Yes, experts like youth counselor, Ms Carol Balhetchet whom I guessed had her hands on the statistics, commented that as compared with other surveys, the following statistics seemed low – that “4 per cent of all Secondary 3 and 4 respondents have had sex and half of this group had sex before they were 15, and one-quarter of them had sex more than five times in the past 12 months”.

Was that because the 3,844 Secondary 1 to 4 students from 51 schools had to fill out the anonymous questionnaires in class where a teacher was present? Thus they did not answer what they should to avoid embarrassment. 

The regular teen smokers remain at 2 per cent. Lesser teens are likely to try smoking, down 19 per cent from 26 per cent in year 2000 yet half of teen smokers picked it up before the age of 12 and 19 per cent of them do not think it is harmful.

Come to healthy eating of two serving of fruits and vegetables every day, more than 70 per cent of the respondents knew. Given the ubiquitous availability of delicious sugary and deep-fried foods throughout the island, it is no surprise to me that they said that they are fond of. Exercise was not a top priority – not surprising again. Boys were more than twice as likely to exercise than girls – most boys like outdoor sports like soccer? 

Can I conclude that these questions are easier to answer than the sensitive sex and smoking ones?

Anyway, healthy teens are the future and health of our country. That is why the HPB wants to focus on their practices and attitudes towards smoking, sex, diet, exercise and mental health (report is under evaluation) because many habits which persist in adulthood are formed in one’s teens”.  It hoped that this survey will provide the baseline data for future youth health initiatives in shaping these habits.

Yesterday (9th September 2007), I read about the Singapore Health Promotion Board big ad in Sunday Times entitled “Bad fats come in many disguises”. It showed 4 of Singaporean’s favourite cravings that are unfortunately high in saturated and trans fat – poultry with skin (chicken drumstick), food with coconut milk (nasi lemak), pastries (looks like apple pie) and deep fried food (French fries).

It stated that “A diet high in saturated and trans fats increases the risk of heart disease and stroke …. So, the next time you eat, choose a meal with less of these fats. Your body will thank you for it.”

It also displayed a simple chart showing the main sources of the 2 fats and their adverse effects.

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It even came out with a “Spot the Fat and Win!” promotion where every week, a winner who SMS the code “6GR824” to 76868 will walk away with S$100 shopping voucher.

Surprisingly, contrary to what was advertised, although the promotion was started on 26th August and ending 26th September, I cannot find this information or the “other terms and conditions” on their otherwise very informative http://www.hpb.gov.sg. The latest on their homepage was

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Coming to the bad fats, other than eating fishes and vegetables, it looks like one got to do alot of detox to purge the bad fats and toxins from the body if one wants to indulge in those mouth-watering delicacies.

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.”