Source: Asia Pacific Region 2 – Singapore
Mrs Regina Lee, Organising Chairman, National Heart Week & World Heart Day 2019,
Singapore Heart Foundation Board Members,
Ladies and gentlemen.
1. Good afternoon. I am glad to see everyone gathered here today at the Singapore Heart Foundation’s annual celebration of National Heart Week and World Heart Day.
Risk factors for cardiovascular disease
2. Cardiovascular disease is a key condition in Singapore. In 2017, on average, there were 33 heart attacks and 21 strokes among Singapore residents every day . We also face a rising prevalence of conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol, which increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. From 2010 to 2017, the prevalence rates of high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol among Singapore residents aged 18 to 69 have risen by 14% and 33% respectively. As our population grows older, these numbers will likely rise.
3. Unhealthy lifestyles such as smoking and poor diets are some of the contributors that play a part in this equation. A high intake of salt contributes to high blood pressure, and a high intake of trans fats and saturated fats increase the risk of high blood cholesterol. These are all risk factors for heart disease and stroke.
Shift towards preventive health for a healthier heart
4. Habits can be modified, hence the government recognises the importance to go upstream to nudge Singaporeans towards healthier living and to take better charge of their health.
5. When it comes to helping Singaporeans eat more healthily, we ensure that there are healthier options available and encourage Singaporeans to choose these options. Singaporeans often eat out, so the Health Promotion Board’s (HPB) Healthier Dining Programme was introduced to make healthier food and beverages more accessible. There are now a total of 2,400 food and beverage operators, hawker centres and coffee shops as of March 2019, with more than 9,600 touchpoints and stalls islandwide offering at least one healthier option on their menu. Over the next two years, we will increase the number of hawker stalls offering at least two healthier choices by another 400, offering Singaporeans a wider variety of healthier meals. We will also continue to encourage hawkers to use healthier ingredients such healthier oil, wholegrains and lower-sugar options.
6. Because trans-fat is associated with increased risk of heart disease, the Ministry of Health (MOH) has introduced a ban on partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) as an ingredient in all foods from June 2021. Examples of foods containing PHOs include pre-packaged products like snacks, baked goods, prepared meals and fat spreads. Banning PHOs will eliminate the key source of artificial trans-fat from our diets.
7. Smoking is a risk factor for many major chronic diseases, including heart disease and stroke. We recognise that many smokers want to quit, but face challenges in doing so, due to the addictive nature of the nicotine in cigarettes. One in six smokers contemplates quitting, yet only three in 100 take action to stop smoking. To help more smokers kick-start their journey to quit smoking successfully, we will be piloting new support models with subsidised interventions in our public health institutions (PHIs) starting from March next year. We will systematically reach out to all smokers who receive treatment at the PHIs and offer fully subsidised nicotine replacement therapy, such as nicotine gum and patches, to complement existing cessation counseling. The new pilot programmes by the PHIs to test out various care models will run for a year between March 2020 and March 2022, to target smokers seen in the inpatient and outpatient settings, as well as pregnant smokers and their spouses. We will invest $5 million into these pilots and will increase funding if these prove to be effective in helping smokers quit. We hope to benefit 10,000 smokers over the next two years and help them quit.
8. Early detection is also important. With improved affordability and convenience of screening, we hope that this will reduce the barriers for Singaporeans to go for screening. This will allow for the early detection of conditions such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Making lifestyle changes and good treatment of these conditions in primary care after detecting them early can reduce or delay the onset of complications such as stroke and heart diseases. That is why MOH enhanced the subsidies for Screen for Life (SFL), the national screening programme, in September 2017 to encourage more eligible Singapore residents to go for regular health screening and follow-up at Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS) general practitioner (GP) clinics. Eligible Singaporeans need only pay $5 for the tests under SFL, CHAS Blue and Orange cardholders need only pay $2 while it is free for Pioneers. Eligible Merdeka Generation seniors will also pay $2 from 1 November 2019. This has led to an increase in the number of people screened under SFL. More than 65,000 Singaporeans have benefitted from cardiovascular and cancer screening in the 18 months following the enhancement of SFL subsidies in September 2017. This is almost 30 times higher than the number of Singaporeans who have come forward for screening over the preceding 18 months.
9. In line with the World Heart Federation’s 2019 global campaign, the theme for today’s event is “My Heart, Your Heart”. Heart disease is one of the top contributors to our disease burden, but we can all be empowered to take simple steps and encourage our loved ones to lead healthier lifestyles for a healthier heart. I am also heartened to see that SHF and the Nanyang Polytechnic have enhanced the cardiopulmonary (CPR) kiosks, making it a more interactive and engaging learning experience for users and to further raise awareness of CPR as a life-saving skill. Cardiac arrest can happen without warning and we can all be better equipped with the necessary skills to save the lives of those around us.
10. I hope that you will learn more about preventing heart disease from the various activities at today’s event. Let us come together and support one another on this journey, so that we can all live healthier for longer. Thank you.