Former Nominated Member of Parliament Calvin Cheng has asserted that the Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s suggestions for healthy living might be problematic for underprivileged citizens to follow, in a Facebook post this evening.
In his annual National Day Rally speech this evening, the PM waxed lyrical about the importance of healthy eating and leading an active lifestyle and warned Singaporeans of the dangers of diseases like diabetes which pose a threat to seniors and the young alike.
He outlined that Singaporeans should see a doctor, exercise, be more conscious of their diet, and cut out sugar to avoid contracting the disease which may lead to severe consequences like blindness, impotence, or death due to organ failure.
He also offered alternative diet options like brown rice instead white rice, saying “It is precisely because you are not worried, that I am worried.”
Calvin Cheng decisively countered the PM’s suggestions:
Eating healthy is often not a choice for the low-income.
For example, PM Lee encourages people to eat brown rice and wholemeal bread. However, brown is more expensive than white rice; wholemeal bread is more expensive than white bread.
Eating out healthily is also more difficult for the low-income. Hawker food is often oily and unhealthy, but affordable. Low-income people cannot afford to go to a yuppy cafe and order Quinoa with Organic Chicken Breast.
I think the solution will have to be a mix of taxes and subsidies. For non-essentials such as soft drinks, a sugar tax can be imposed. For staples, such as rice and bread, subsidising the healthier versions can be an option.
If diabetes is a crucial issue, then making sure that low-income people have a real choice to eat healthily should be a national priority.
Even exercise is harder for the low-income. If one has a car, waking up earlier to exercise for 40 mins is a real choice. However if one has to rely on public transport, or have to work two jobs to put food on the table, time is a luxury. Gym memberships, even at community centres, cost money. When one is dog-tired from work, one does not want to take the stairs nor walk 10,000 steps.
Sometimes we have to understand that poverty limits choices. Many policies by design have to target the median, but we must never forget those at the tail-end of the curve that does not have the freedom to make many decisions that can improve their lives.
Eating healthy is often not a choice for the low-income. For example, PM Lee encourages people to eat brown rice and…
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