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Fighting childhood obesity in SG: Healthier meals now offered in schools

Mainstream schools in Singapore will now be serving healthier meal options, as part of a wider initiative to encourage better eating habits and fight rising childhood obesity rates in the city-state, which have increased from 10 percent in 2010 to 12 percent in 2016. Announced on 17 July in a press release by the Ministry of Health (MOH) and Ministry of Education (MOE), under the Healthy Meals in Schools Programme (HMSP) canteen stall operators at schools must now follow a set of food service guidelines to curb consumption of food and beverages high in sugar, fat, and salt content.

The HMSP came from recommendations by NurtureSG, an inter-agency task force led by the Minister of State for Health Dr. Lam Pin Min and Minister of State for Education Dr. Janil Puthucheary to enhance health outcomes among children and youth. Today, our article looks at childhood obesity in Singapore, and uncovers everything you need to know about the new Healthy Meals in Schools Programme.

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Childhood obesity: A growing concern in Singapore

While hereditary and cultural factors certainly do have a part to play in making children more susceptible to developing obesity, lifestyle habits also play a very significant role in Singapore’s rising childhood obesity rates. 30% of children in Singapore are categorized as being overweight, and while many Western countries have relatively higher rates of overweight children (e.g. in the US, where it is around 50%), the gap between Singapore and other Western countries is slowly narrowing.

Rising obesity rates are a huge concern, as it can lead to a whole host of other health complications that may occur either during childhood or later on in life. Common complications include diabetes, hypertension, heart conditions, and other issues like sleep apnea and joint pains. Additionally, certain types of kidney, gut and thyroid cancer have their roots in childhood obesity.

What’s more, children with obesity are also more likely to be obese as adults. For instance, children who become obese at 2 years of age have a 50% chance of being obese as adults. Those who develop obesity during their teenage years have a 70% chance of being obese as adults. These alarming figures all point to the need for children to start developing healthy lifestyle habits at a young age.

Healthy Meals in Schools Programme overview

Under the HMSP, canteen vendors at schools must now serve healthier food options to kids, and will need to observe the following guidelines (to read it in full, click here):

  • Every meal must contain food from these four food groups: brown rice/wholemeal bread, fruit, vegetables, and meat/ vegetarian protein (e.g. tofu). Meals should also have at least two heaped dessert spoonfuls of vegetables, and at least half a serving of fruit.
  • Include whole grains, e.g. white rice should be mixed with brown rice or another rice of choice.
  • When preparing food, use skinless poultry/ lean meat.
  • When high-fat ingredients are used in preparing food and beverages (e.g. coconut cream), at least half of the required amount of such ingredients should be replaced with a low fat alternative (e.g. low fat yoghurt).
  • Fattening and oily sauces/ soup should not be served unless upon request.
  • Snack stalls must only sell homemade snacks, or commercial snacks that have the Healthier Choice Symbol (HCS) or HCS equivalent.
  • The canteen area must have at least two regularly maintained water coolers.
  • Beverages and desserts sold in canteens should contain less sugar. The specific guidelines on maximum sugar levels for different drink types are:
Drink type Sugar level (per 100 ml)
Asian drinks/ tea ≤ 6g
Juice drinks ≤ 6g
Carbonated drinks ≤ 7g
Sports drinks ≤ 6g
Dairy/ soya/ malted drinks ≤ 6g
Yoghurt/ cultured milk drinks ≤ 7g
Pure fruit/ vegetable juices ≤ 12.5g (no added sugar)

Under the scheme, canteen stall operators were also trained by nutritionists and chefs on healthier cooking methods, like baking and grilling. At certain schools, students can pay around 10 to 30 cents more for the cost of healthier ingredients and extra fruit portions with their meals.

Other children’s health programmes in Singapore

Besides addressing the issue of poor diet choices and the rise in childhood obesity rates, in 2017 a number of other initiatives were rolled out to address various other youth health-related focus areas, including physical activity, mental health, and adequate sleep.

For instance, to encourage children to exercise, the Health Promotion Board (HPB) launched its pilot Active and Healthy Weekends programme between January and April this year, where over 2,200 parents and children participated in its family fitness activities held at various community sites. To address mental health, the HPB and MOE have started providing mental health training courses to school educators. The HPB also launched a microsite to education parents about the importance of adequate sleep in children.

Final advice

We all know how important it is to protect the health and wellbeing of our children. As such, securing the right health insurance coverage for your children will ensure that, should they require medical treatment, they have access to the best facilities in Singapore. To learn more about your children’s health insurance options, why not give the helpful advisors at Pacific Prime Singapore a call? With years of experience advising expats and their families in Singapore, you can rest assured that we will match you with the best health insurance solutions for your needs. If you’ve got any questions, or would like to get a free quote and plan comparison, get in touch with us today.

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