May 09, 2014

    Here's to living longer... and a better quality of life

    AS A Singaporean man, I can apparently expect to live until 80, based on the latest World Health Organisation figures, which show that Singapore is now among the top countries in the world in terms of life expectancy at birth.

    Yes, Singaporeans are now among the longest-living and healthiest people in the world. And with a longer lifespan, they want a better quality of life.

    I believe Singapore can make that happen, by making healthy living a way of life.

    Last month, the Ministry of Health released the Healthy Living Master Plan (HLMP) report. It crystallises our vision of "Healthy Living Every Day", where healthy living will be at the "doorstep" of every home, workplace and school by 2020.

    We will increase the scale and accessibility of healthy living options, and introduce "nudges" along the way to encourage healthy living, in partnership with public and private agencies and communities.

    Many initiatives in the master plan were developed based on suggestions and ideas provided by hundreds of participants during a six-week public consultation last year.

    For example, many working adults shared that it was difficult for them to exercise regularly because of long office hours. So we took healthy living to workplaces by creating the Healthy Workplace Ecosystem at the Mapletree Business City in October last year.

    We have since made progress and received good feedback. Four active running groups have been set up, and more than 1,000 employees there have participated in physical activity sessions organised by the Health Promotion Board (HPB).

    More than half of the food and beverage establishments there are offering healthier options, and more than 90 per cent of stalls at the food court are providing 500-calorie meals.

    In January, we took healthy living to the community by introducing Healthy Community Ecosystems in Sembawang and Choa Chu Kang. HPB installed colourful visual cues that have successfully encouraged more residents to take the stairs instead of the lift.

    Thanks to these moves, and initiatives such as the "Sundays at the Park" wellness programme, healthy cooking demonstrations and supermarket tours, residents in Sembawang and Choa Chu Kang are well on their way to better health.

    These small successes are encouraging. We aim to replicate such ecosystems in other workplaces and towns.

    Healthy habits need to be cultivated from an early age. We are working with mainstream schools and childcare centres to instil healthy eating habits in the young through the Healthy Meals programme.

    HPB's evaluation of a sample of participating schools has since found that pupils have a better understanding of nutritional needs, and eat more fruit, vegetables and whole grains.

    We aim to extend the programme to all mainstream schools by 2016 and to 920 childcare centres by 2020.

    The HLMP is a living document which will continue to evolve as more ideas and innovative approaches surface that can be utilised to encourage healthy living. Thus, I am confident that Singaporeans will be motivated to make Healthy Living Every Day possible.

    Associate Professor Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim is parliamentary secretary at the ministries of Health and Transport.