NUS News

Ways to combat diabetes

To win the war on diabetes, “we now need to have sound intelligence and effective weapons”, stressed Professor Chia Kee Seng, Dean of NUS Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health (SSHSPH) at the 2nd Singapore International Public Health Conference. He was referring to Singapore’s recent declaration of “war on diabetes” to fight the worrying rise in number of diabetics.

The urgent need to battle various chronic and infectious diseases was central to the Conference’s theme of “Contemporary challenges, sustainable solutions”. Held on 29 and 30 September, the event was jointly organised by NUS SSHSPH and the College of Public Health and Occupational Physicians, Academy of Medicine, Singapore. The meeting brought together public health experts from around the world to explore and discuss solutions for various public health challenges, such as dengue and Zika. 

SSHSPH projected in 2012 that the number of diabetics in Singapore is likely to increase to one million in 2050, with costs hitting more than $2.5 billion annually. These projections galvanised Singapore’s efforts to fight the disease.

The Public School seeks to adopt practical solutions with three major thrusts: understanding the drivers of obesity in young adults, raising the awareness of healthy lifestyles in workplaces, and studying the nutritional behaviours of toddlers and preschool children.

Obesity among young adults doubled between 1992 and 2010. While measures to increase awareness and educate citizens about healthy living and eating have been ongoing, there is a need to evaluate the success and impact made, pointed out Prof Chia, to better understand the reasons for the increase in obesity.

SSHSPH will be studying the factors that influence the adoption and efficacy of health promotion programmes at the workplace to gain insight on the uptake. “Workplace health promotion can no longer be a ‘good to have’,” declared Prof Chia. “It is a must-have.”

When the oral health of primary one children was evaluated, it was discovered that more than 50 per cent of school children have dental caries, Prof Chia shared. Thus, nutrition and eating habits in preschoolers will be investigated to assess how these impact and condition dietary behaviours in the future.

SSHSPH is also looking into simplifying the screening test for diabetes to better diagnose those at risk from the disease.

“While some factors cannot be controlled, such as population ageing and genetics, we can empower our population to take charge of their own health to reduce the risk of diabetes,” said Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources, and Ministry of Health, Guest-of-Honour at the conference. “If we do this well, we can also reduce the development of the other chronic conditions or complications associated with diabetes, such as heart attacks, strokes and kidney failure."