Singapore warns of health risks as obesity grows

  Agence France Presse
March 16, 2005

MORE Singaporeans risk suffering stroke, diabetes and other diseases as obesity levels rise in the affluent Southeast Asian city-state, a new government system of measuring body fat shows.

Singapore's collective waistline is bulging, a trend some researchers attribute to a gradual shift in diet on the predominantly ethnic-Chinese island toward Western fast foods.

The Health Promotion Board said it was lowering a scale which correlates an individual's body mass index (BMI) to health risks after new findings from local studies and recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO).

Recent studies have shown that many Asians, widely envied for their slim waists, actually have more fat as a proportion of total body weight than Caucasians of the same age, sex and BMI.

Asians also run an increased risk of developing cardiovascular diseases and diabetes mellitus at relatively low BMI levels, the board said in a statement. "According to the WHO, obesity is fast becoming a global epidemic and Singapore is following a similar trend as that of developed countries," said Dr Lam Sian Lian, the board's chief executive.

"With the new guidelines, about half of the adult population will be at moderate-high risk. Previously we were looking at about a third, going by the WHO international cut-offs for overweight and obese," Lam said.

Singapore's last national health survey in 1998 showed that the proportion of its population listed as overweight had risen in six years from 21 to 24 percent, while those categorized as obese had increased from 5 to 6 percent.

The WHO has recommended body weight classifications -- underweight and gradations of excess weight or overweight -- that are associated with increased risk of some diseases.

Obesity is usually defined as having a body mass index -- a measure of weight relative to height -- of 30 or above, while a healthy weight is an index of less than 25.

Under Singapore's new system, people with a BMI of 27.5 and above are considered at high risk of disease, while 23 to 27.4 signals moderate risk and 18.5 to 22.9 is healthy.