Not many millennials would excitedly look forward to the National Day Rally, unless they were unlucky enough to be Heartland Boy’s previous economics students. Call him a nerd, but Heartland Boy listened to the National Day Rally online while he was travelling from the airport to his office. Well, for those who missed out on the National Day Rally 2017 that was held on 20 August 2017, here are the key highlights. In summary, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (‘PM Lee’) made 3 key messages that his government is working hard on:
- Improving pre-school education
- Fighting diabetes
- Transforming Singapore towards a Smart Nation
Amongst the 3 key issues that PM Lee spoke at lengths about, diabetes struck the biggest chord with Heartland Boy and would be the focus topic for this blog article. That is because 2 of his family members were recently down with gout. It was a stark reminder to him that he should watch his diet very closely.
What is Diabetes?
Unfortunately, there are several myths about diabetes. The most common misconception that Heartland Boy heard was that diabetes is entirely hereditary. His dad, who subscribes to that misconception, fits exactly into the profile type that PM Lee had described in NDR 2017- the group who chooses not to know about their medical conditions! For this group of people, if they do not know, it means that they are not sick. This is especially dangerous because it could be a case of “too late” when silent diseases are discovered thereafter.
Thankfully, this professional counsellor, coincidentally Heartland Boy’s wife, wrote an elucidating article on diabetes. In summary, 90% of diabetics have Type 2 diabetes and it is a lifestyle disease. It can be prevented through a combination of a balanced and nutritious diet as well as regular physical activity. Heartland Boy thought that this was best emphasized by the scary future which PM Lee had painted to the audience, i.e. 1 in 3 of them will eventually become diabetic when they reach age 60 should current trends persist. (if you are reading this on the MRT while on your commute to work, it means either you or the passengers seated to your left and right will eventually become diabetic) To reverse such worrying trends, PM Lee urged all Singaporeans to monitor their diets and engage in regular physical activities.
Can lifestyle changes be made?
One of the most transformational changes Heartland Boy made after meeting Heartland Girl was his diet. When Heartland Girl was pursuing her nutritional accreditations, she increasingly agitated them to turn into vegetarians! She obviously did not succeed, but over the years, Heartland Boy has made incremental changes to his diet. For instance, he now prefers brown rice over white rice. For your information, Jakarta definitely comes out tops on this over Singapore since more dining places offer brown rice. On days when Heartland Boy cooks, he only uses wholegrain products and vegetables whenever possible. It is not necessarily Michelin Star-quality food, but nourishing food that will allow him to remain healthy.
The truth is not everyone is privileged enough to have a nagging caring spouse who watches the other half’s diet like a hawk. And as all good economic students should know, government intervention is necessary if it desires the public to consume more healthcare-related services. Healthcare is a merit good which would be under-consumed and under-provided in a free market.
Time For The Paternalistic Government To Rear Its Head
Here is what the Singapore government can possibly do.
- Introduce taxes on non-essential, unhealthy food choices such as fizzy drinks. This is similar to the sin tax imposed on alcohol and spirits. The effect of too much sugar on the body may not be apparent immediately, but they are nonetheless dangerous and eventually costly to society due to the increase in healthcare cost and loss of productivity.
- Channel the taxes collected towards subsidizing healthier staples such as wholemeal bread, and brown rice etc. Basically, foods that are low in glycaemic index (GI) should be subsidized so that they become more affordable to the lower-income families. That is because, taste aside, cost is often cited as a critical factor that prevents people from switching to unprocessed wholegrains. Ironically, brown rice, which is basically the unprocessed stage of white rice, costs more than white rice! This is despite the fact that fewer steps are often needed to obtain brown rice as compared to white rice.
A combination of such a carrot and stick approach could possibly work, as various countries have shown to some extent. For example, a bowl of processed white rice typically cost $0.50 at hawker centers while a bowl of brown rice ranges between 80 cents to a dollar. As a result of government’s subsidy, the cost of brown rice is reduced to $0.30 instead. A higher proportion of the population will therefore be incentivized to switch in order to reap the cost savings. It is important to note that circumstances such as poverty often dictates the choices that lower income families must make. Unfortunately, it is exactly this group of people that government must intervene and prioritize to help first.
A Healthier Lifestyle From Today
Since the government is advocating a healthier lifestyle, why not win a pair of free tickets and join Heartland Boy and Heartland Girl at the SGX Bull Run on 17 November 2017? Find out more in this article on how you can effortlessly win a pair of tickets to this 5km fun run!