Speech by Associate Professor Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Health, at the National Healthy Lifestyle Campaign – GO Healthy @ Workplace event, 25 October 2013

Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Deputy Prime Minister

Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for Health and Manpower

Mr Heng Chee How, Deputy Secretary-General, NTUC

Mr Lucas Chow, Chairman, Health Promotion Board

Mr Zee Yoong Kang, CEO, Health Promotion Board

Ms Amy Ng, CEO, Mapletree Commercial Trust Management

Distinguished Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen

Introduction

I am happy to be here at Mapletree Business City (MBC) on this bright Friday morning and to see many of our fellow Singaporeans joining us for our annual National Healthy Lifestyle Campaign (NHLC). The NHLC has its roots in 1992, when then-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, recognising the importance of encouraging Singaporeans to lead healthy lives, started a platform to galvanise Singaporeans to lead a healthier lifestyle.

2          Since then, our Health Promotion Board has introduced various programmes and initiatives such as the Healthier Hawker Centre, the Lose to Win challenge, the iQuit 28-Day Countdown, the Drink Water Campaign and many more, especially as we learn new ways of influencing the population to live healthily. The NHLC has developed much from its humble beginnings. We have seen good success over the years. Today, more Singaporeans are engaging in regular physical activity, and eating more healthily1. But we should not rest on our laurels. Hence, in March this year, we started the Healthy Living Master Plan to ensure that all Singaporeans have access to a healthy lifestyle so that healthy living becomes natural and effortless for all.

3          Singapore, has made great strides when it comes to healthy living. But we can still learn from other places, such as New York City, which has succeeded in reducing its number of obese people. Good ideas can come from anywhere and anyone, and hence we have been reaching out widely to solicit Singaporeans views on the HLMP which aims to chart the next lap in influencing healthy behaviours in the country by building on the inroads in healthy living that we have made over the past years.

Coming together for a healthier Singapore

4          Our Master Plan is anchored on 3Ps – Place, People and Price. The “Place” factor refers to the need to create an accessible and conducive physical environment. The “People” factor recognises the need for a socially inclusive community for everyone to be engaged and aware of healthy living opportunities. Lastly, the “Price” factor aims to create affordable options for all.

5          During our public consult with Singaporeans, they have told us that many already know what they need to do to live healthy. Yet, many struggle to do so for various reasons, such as a lack of time or motivation. We realise that all we need is a little nudge in the right direction from our family, peers and colleagues to be more physically active or to eat healthily. Adopting healthy behaviours become a lot easier when we have them cheering us on and hence the “People” factor, is another important area that we need to nurture.

6          We also heard from our citizens that healthier options are usually more costly. We therefore need to address the price factor – the third “P”, to make sure that healthier options, particularly food, are affordable and value for money for Singaporeans.

7          Today marks the first milestone of the Healthy Living Master Plan, where MBC is showcased as a living model of a healthy living ecosystem embracing the principles of the 3Ps in a workplace setting.

Putting 3 Ps into action through Partnerships

8          MBC is a natural choice to put the 3Ps into action. A thriving commercial locale, MBC is home to over 10,000 workers from over 20 companies. Besides the close accessibility to two of our public parks – Labrador Park and Hort Park, the business city is self-contained with facilities such as eating outlets and a gymnasium.

9          Firstly, we created the health-promoting environment by bringing exercise programmes, healthier food options and screening packages to the doorsteps of the companies in MBC.

10        For example, HPB will introduce its “Sunrise in the City” morning workout classes in partnership with Fitness First. Separately, runners can also take part in i-Run, an evening group running activity. Employees in MBC will find healthier food options at their doorstep. More than half of the F&B establishments are offering healthier options and over 90 percent of stalls in the foodcourt have committed to offer 500 calorie meals. Employees in MBC will also be able to find healthier choice food items at the nearby NTUC Fairprice supermarket at Alexandra Retail Centre.

11        After creating the right environment, we need to build a community of physically active people. HPB will pilot the “GO Healthy in 24 weeks” programme at MBC, which is a specially designed series of workshops to equip busy working adults with the know-how to stay healthy. The Singapore Sports Council and People’s Association have also come on board to encourage companies to organise corporate-wide activities for their employees at their workplaces, or at the nearest Singapore Recreation Centres and Community Centres. We want individuals to stay actively engaged, and form a community of physically active people who will mutually encourage and spur each other and other colleagues to stay healthy.

12        Lastly, in addressing the Price element, HPB has worked with food and beverage partners to offer discounts to encourage employees in MBC to choose the healthier options. Aside from eating healthily, it is also important that Singaporeans are aware of their health status, and go for appropriate screening. Raffles Medical at MBC is piloting a customised screening package at a special rate just for employees in MBC. This little nudge in terms of “Price” serves as the impetus for people to choose healthier options and to be proactive about their health.

13        All this would not be possible without the help of our partners like Mapletree. I would like to acknowledge the management team at Mapletree in working with us to make MBC the first healthy workplace ecosystem in Singapore. I hope that it will serve as an inspiration for other property developers to follow suit. I would also like to acknowledge the efforts of the owners of the retail businesses which have come on board, and I encourage the rest to do so too.

Health promoting workplaces

14        The effort to bring together the right elements to encourage workers to live a healthier lifestyle would come to nought without the participation of companies. We need more of such employers and companies. Within the MBC, Unilever is an inspiring example of a company that invests in the health of its employees and one that actively promotes healthy workplace practices. A Singapore Health Award2 Gold winner in 2012, the company has in place a structured workplace well-being programme. Since its introduction in 2009, more Unilever employees have been eating more healthily and exercising more regularly.  This has an indirect impact on reducing healthcare costs for the company. I sincerely hope many of the companies in MBC will take advantage of what is being done in MBC and will become future SHA winners.

15        In addition to what we are doing in MBC, we are also assisting workers who are earning lower wages to stay healthy. One union leader who attended our dialogue sessions said, “These workers need our help even more because they face the necessity of working longer hours to keep their jobs”. We are aware of this.

16        HPB will build tripartite partnerships to roll out health promotion programmes for lower-income workers. As a start, they will be mainly from industries with workers doing shift work and with no fixed worksite, such as food & beverage, retail, and transport. These workers generally cannot afford the means and time to practise healthy lifestyles. HPB has partnered the National Taxi Association (NTA) to develop customised workshops to equip taxi drivers with knowledge and skills in healthy living. For example, correct sitting posture while driving, and healthy eating tips. Over the long term, we will cast our net wider to reach out to employers in industries which have higher proportion of lower-income and/or mature workers.

Conclusion

17        To conclude, today is just the first step in an exciting journey. We want to replicate this model of a healthy workplace ecosystem with other business parks and workplaces. I encourage individuals, our public sector colleagues and industry partners to join us in this journey. Let’s make our workplaces, not only a productive, but a healthier one for our employees. The vision of the Healthy Living Master Plan can become a reality if we join forces across all sectors of society, and work together towards the common goal of ensuring all Singaporeans have access to healthy living. Thank you; and I wish you an enjoyable morning ahead.


[1] According to the National Health Survey, the age-standardised prevalence of leisure-time regular exercise has shown a steady increase from 14.4% in 1992 to 19.0% in 2010.

According to the 2010 National Nutrition Survey, the proportion of Singaporeans who consumed at least one serving of whole-grain products a day has increased from 8.4% in 2004 to 27% in 2010. The sales volume of healthier choice products has also increased from 39.3% in 2003 to 53.5% in 2010, indicating the broader adoption of healthier food products among Singaporeans.

[2] The SHA is presented to workplaces and individuals to recognise them for commendable efforts in workplace health. The awards have been presented once every two years since it began in 1999. There are four corporate award categories: Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze. In 2012, there were a total of 446 winners across the four categories, which is also the highest number of wards since 1999.

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