National survey shows people in Singapore becoming less healthy, Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

National survey shows people in Singapore becoming less healthy

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Rise in chronic ailments such as high blood pressure, but there are silver linings

People in Singapore are becoming less healthy, with the latest National Population Health Survey showing a concerning up-tick in chronic ailments such as high blood pressure, which now afflicts more than a third of the population.

The Covid-19 pandemic, which has resulted in people adopting a more sedentary lifestyle, is likely to make the situation worse, as many work from home and miss out on the physical activity involved in daily commutes, for example.

Among the worrying trends: There was a 50 per cent spike in the number of people with high blood pressure in just two years, rising from 24.2 per cent in 2017 to 35.5 per cent during the eight-month survey period that ended in March last year.

Despite a five-year war on diabetes, the disease's prevalence rate went up from 8.8 per cent to 9.5 per cent in the same period.

In addition, fewer people managed to hit the recommended physical activity requirements, even as half the population reported they got most of their physical activity by commuting.

Binge drinking was also up - from 8.8 per cent to 10.5 per cent - especially among young men.

Men were considered to have been binge drinking if they consumed five or more alcoholic drinks in one session during the past month before the survey was carried out, while women were taken to have done so if they had four or more drinks.

One drink is defined as one glass of wine or one measure of spirits. One can of beer is defined as 1½ drinks.

But there are several silver linings.

A third of the population engaged in leisure-time physical activity, a slight uptick from 29.4 per cent in 2017. This refers to physical activity that is done outside of work or commuting.

Smoking has fallen from 11.8 per cent to 10.1 per cent, after the minimum legal age for smoking was raised from 20 to 21 years old.

The National Population Health Survey 2020 was carried out between July 2019 and March last year.

It comprised interviews with around 6,000 people. Health examinations of 5,000 people over two years were also included.

Its findings are a reminder to Singaporeans to "continue engaging in healthy lifestyle habits amidst the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic", the Ministry of Health (MOH) said in a statement yesterday.

A spokesman added that more people are working from home, which means less time spent on commuting, outdoor activities and exercise classes. "This makes it very easy for us to lapse into a more sedentary lifestyle," she said.

MOH said it will build on ongoing health promotion efforts, such as the National Steps Challenge, to push for healthy habits.

For instance, a nationwide campaign to get Singaporeans to reduce salt consumption will be rolled out to combat the sharp increase in high blood pressure levels. The Health Promotion Board is also planning to ramp up efforts to get firms to formulate low-sodium sauces and seasonings.

From the end of next year, beverage companies will also have to introduce a new labelling system so that consumers know how nutritious the drinks are, and no advertisements will be allowed for the most unhealthy drinks.

"Many of these efforts will take time to show longer-term health outcomes, and we will continue to push on with our efforts, such as those under the war on diabetes," MOH said.