SINGAPORE: Workers’ Party MP Louis Chua (Sengkang GRC) recently brought up the topic of obesity in Parliament, asking if the Health Ministry would consider obesity as a chronic disease under the Chronic Disease Management Programme (CDMP).

Unlike in other countries, obesity is not considered a chronic disease in Singapore. As such, people seeking help battling obesity would not have access to the funds under CDMP for treatment.

FB screengrab/Louis Chua

The Ministry of Health noted in 2021 that obesity had risen to its highest levels in Singapore since 2010 and urged the public to exercise more and adopt more healthful diets.

Last year, MOH reported a significant uptick in obesity rates. Between 2013 and 2022, the percentage of obese residents jumped from 8.6  to 11.6 per cent. Young people have not been exempt. The proportion of primary, secondary and pre-university students under 18 who were overweight was 13 per cent in 2017. By 2021, it had risen to 16 per cent.

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Mr Chua, who had posed the question in Parliament on Jan 10, shined a light on obesity again in a Facebook post on Friday (Jan 19). He noted that much interest has been shown regarding a new class of drugs used to treat obesity known as GLP-1 receptor agonists, two of which have been approved by the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) for obesity management.

“This puts the spotlight on a ‘sizable’ problem globally and also in Singapore, where we have fallen short of national targets set in 2010,” wrote Mr Chua.

He acknowledged that the drugs may not be suitable for everyone and that other treatment options are available. However, he added that there has been “increasing recognition of obesity as a complex multifactorial disease”, which expands access to obesity prevention, management, and treatment services.

And while changes in lifestyle are key to addressing obesity, the MP does not believe treatment is merely a case of “eat less, exercise more.”

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He also quoted the World Health Organization as saying, “Current service delivery models that intervene only when obesity-related comorbidities appear must be replaced with models that recognize obesity as a chronic disease…”.

Those who are battling obesity in Singapore mostly pay for their own treatment, something the MP considers particularly critical for the severely obese. He believes that formally recognizing obesity as a chronic disease under the CDMP “will at least enable better funding access to those who need it and complement our strategies to tackle obesity.”

Health Minister Ong Ye Kung answered Mr Chua by saying that obesity is not considered internationally or locally as a chronic disease but acknowledged that it is associated with several chronic diseases, including diabetes, hypertension, lipid disorders, and chronic kidney disease, all of which fall under CDMP.

FB screengrab/Louis Chua

“Patients requiring weight management can access relevant programmes and should speak to their doctor for advice. Under Healthier SG, doctors will develop care plans and refer patients to the relevant weight management programmes according to each patient’s condition and care goals,” added Mr Ong.

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The list of medical conditions considered as chronic diseases in Singapore may be found here.

Patients who suffer from these diseases may use up to S$700 per patient yearly, while other patients can use up to S$500 per patient yearly for their treatments. Every MediSave claim is subject to a 15 per cent co-payment in cash.

Other subsidies are available for patients seeking treatment for chronic disease as well. /TISG

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