Singapore’s War on Diabetes – How Industry Can Participate

 
 

The announcement by Singapore’s Minister for Health Gan Kim Yong, of the nation’s war on diabetes and plans to set up a taskforce made up of representatives from government agencies, the private sector, and patient advocacy and caregiver groups, is welcomed by Food Industry Asia (FIA). FIA has always advocated for a whole-of-society approach to tackle obesity and non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

During the debate on his ministry's budget in Parliament, Minister Gan said that of the more than 400,000 diabetics in Singapore, one in three do not even know they have the disease; and among those diagnosed with the disease, one in three have poor control of it.

Minister Gan also outlined a three-pronged approach to tackling diabetes, which includes the promotion of healthy lifestyles and reduction of obesity rates, strengthening early screening and intervention efforts to identify the disease for those at risk or undiagnosed, and finally, support for better disease control to slow disease progression and reduce complications.

He revealed that if action is not taken, the situation will get worse, following predictions that one out of every three people in Singapore may end up diabetic.

This prediction tallies with a study commissioned by the Asia Roundtable on Food Innovation for Improved Nutrition (ARoFIIN), which indicates that the problem of obesity and NCDs, including diabetes, is more pronounced in Southeast Asia. According to the research currently being carried out by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), the rising number of obese and overweight adults and young people in Asia is likely to put more individuals at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Diabetes rates are set to double in this region by 2030, based on data from EIU’s study, “The Current Landscape and State of Health in Relation to Obesity in South-East Asia”. The EIU study aims to provide solid evidence of the economic impact of obesity in the ASEAN region, and to identify which policy responses regulators, the food industry and governments can make within the ASEAN context.

Mr Matt Kovac, FIA Executive Director, said he welcomed the setting up of a new Diabetes Prevention and Care Taskforce, to be co-chaired by Gan and Acting Minister for Education (Schools), Ng Chee Meng.

“I am especially encouraged by the Minister’s comment that the taskforce will include representatives from government agencies, the private sector, patient advocacy and caregiver groups,” Mr Kovac said. “FIA supports the view that a sustainable and multi-stakeholder (public and private) effort is needed to improve diets and stabilise rates of obesity and chronic disease in Asia.”

“The global NCD challenge has triggered global debates and galvanised partnerships among governments, public health bodies, non-government organisations, think tanks and the food industry, as key stakeholders look to develop solutions to help tackle the complex whole-of-society approach to nutrition and health challenges. As part of its mission, FIA is harnessing the power of partnership to launch a sustainable, multi-stakeholder regional effort to improve diets and stabilise the rates of obesity and NCDs, especially diabetes in Asia.”

In response to Asia’s growing rate of obesity and NCD issues, the Asia Roundtable on Food Innovation for Improved Nutrition (ARoFIIN) was established in 2015 and formally launched in January 2016 in Singapore, in order to leverage public-private partnerships and bring together experts from across government, academia, industry and civil society, to initiate and sustain a regional, multi-stakeholder dialogue on the role of food innovation in tackling obesity and chronic disease. During this period, ARoFIIN made significant progress in galvanising efforts to pursue an integrated approach to solving some of the biggest health challenges in the region.

The food industry has an important role to play, too. Recognising that healthy eating is a key factor in the fight against diabetes, FIA’s members share common values around the responsible promotion of balanced diets and lifestyles. FIA members continuously improve product offerings to create products that offer healthier options with more whole grains and fibre, more calcium, vitamins and minerals, more low-fat dairy, more vegetables and fruit, reduced sodium, less fat, less sugar and fewer calories.

Mr Kovac added that FIA and its network of national industry associations are working constructively with governments in Asia on nutrition and health issues, such as diabetes, with the goal of promoting a joined-up dialogue spanning all points of the supply chain and capturing the views of all stakeholders.

“With this in mind, public-private partnerships such as ARoFIIN play an increasingly important part of the debate on diabetes in Singapore and other countries in the region,” he said. “FIA looks forward to participating and contributing to the government’s plans to tackle this societal challenge.”


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