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More severely overweight children attending HPB programmes

However, four in 10 severely overweight children are not attending Health Promotion Board (HPB) programmes. Their parents say they do not have time, or that the programme venues are too far from home.

SINGAPORE: The Health Promotion Board (HPB) says it has been seeing more severely overweight children attending its free nutrition counselling programmes in the last two years. 62 per cent of severely overweight children attended these programmes last year - a 12 per cent increase from when it started in 2008.

The programmes have interactive games that help parents and children learn exactly how much fat, sugar and salt go into foods like burgers, french fries or chicken rice. They help children set personal weight-control targets and plan diet charts over three half-hour sessions spread over six months. The prevalence of childhood obesity in Singapore has increased over the past few decades and currently stands at about 11 per cent.

Ms Liu Cheuk Shan, a participant of HPB’s EMPower weight management programme, said she has been battling the bulge since she was 10 years old. At 14, she weighed 71kg, and was referred to attend the six month weight management programme for secondary and Junior College students.

She said the programme has helped her make wiser food choices and encouraged to exercise more. “The nutritionist would guide me through every session. They will tell me what to eat and what not to eat. For example, they will tell me (the difference between) a packet of Milo compared to those 3-in-1 instant packs of Milo, (and) how much the sugar intake is. They will teach me how to read through the nutritional information, like how many grams of sugar, energy, carbohydrates something has."

Her parents were also involved in the programme to learn how to maintain a healthy home environment. Two years on, she has shed some 10kg and has now graduated from the programme.

While the results of these programmes have been encouraging, the real challenge is getting more parents to send their children for them. Currently, four in ten severely overweight children do not attend these programmes.

Parents of these children cited several reasons including not having the time, preferring to monitor their children's diets on their own, and the long distance from their home to the HPB, or the perception that their children will outgrow obesity and hence they do not need to see a doctor or nutrition counsellor.

However, HPB Director of School Health and Outreach Division Dr K Vijaya pointed out: “For greater accessibility and convenience, we have a lot of our programmes in schools and also community venues. This would encourage greater participation and allow more of these severely overweight students to participate in our programmes".

“So in the school setting, our programmes are offered either within the curriculum or outside school hours to ensure greater participation. And at community venues we tap existing infrastructure such as community centres, fitness corner, parks and even supermarkets”, he added.

Statistics show three-quarters of obese children continue with the conditions into adulthood, and they will be at higher risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, stroke and certain cancers. With that in mind, HPB has been working with pre-schools to introduce healthier meals for their students.

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