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What is the relationship between family income and food choices and what is the Solution? by 8ECh Chuxin Liang

Introduction

What is the relationship between family income and the choice of foods in Singapore? What is the solution for those low-income family with unhealthy diets? My aims of the inquiry are to looking into the place--Singapore, and find out the food choices of most people experiencing food insecurity and find a possible solution. Every day when we walk to school, when we are waiting at the bus stop for the public buses, when we buy things from a grocery store, we see different people. This inquiry is about people, people we see every day. It is very close to our daily life and I find it very interesting. They have the same features as us, as Singaporeans, wearing the same kinds of clothes, speaking the same language as us, but they might be worrying about different things that we never need to consider about. Everyone should be interested in this question, because by researching it you get the opportunity to know something outside of your small circle.

Background Information

Singapore is a country in Southeast Asia. As a developed country, it ranks highly in numerous international rankings, and has been recognized as the most "technology-ready" nation (WEF), top International-meetings city, the city with "best investment potential”, world's smartest city, world's safest country, etc.

Food insecurity is the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. It is a global issue that is mainly caused by poverty. However, in Singapore, such a developed country, food insecurity still exists. In Singapore 12% of people are unable to have all three meals everyday.

Causes

The main cause of common health issues in Singapore like diabetes is low-income. A recent report has shown that people with low incomes are more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes than their richer peers.

An easy way to prevent diabetes is to eat healthier food, for example, brown rice. Brown rice is more beneficial to our body than white rice. The cause of type 2 diabetes is high blood sugar, and brown rice is packed with fiber, which is not digested by the body. This helps to keep our body with steady blood sugar levels. In addition, brown rice contains lots of protein, fiber, potassium, selenium, choline, phosphorus, and magnesium. Brown rice helps people to prevent type 2 diabetes effectively.

Table 1-1

However, as this table has shown, brown rice, in the local supermarket “Fairprice”, costs 0.5 more than white rice. Although it costs only 2 SGD more, low-income families would consider not to buy it and choose the cheaper.

Gina's family is a typical low-income Singaporean family which earns about 100o SGD every month. “My mum always chooses cheaper food items,” Gina said. “She doesn’t always buy brown rice because it’s too expensive for us. Sometimes she mixes brown rice and white rice so she will not use too much.” This reflects the daily life of most low-income Singaporean families.

Instant noodle is a perfect choice for many Singaporeans. Why is it so? Below are two graphs showing the prices of instant noodles in Fairprice and the prices of chicken, which is a “must” in home-cooked noodles.

Table 1-2 below shows the average price of instant noodles in Fairprice:

Table 1-2

The table below shows that the prices of small packed chicken in Fairprice.

Table 1-3

The cost of chicken seems to be a lot higher than instant noodles. The high cost, again, become the barrier for Singaporeans to eat healthy foods.

Many low-income Singaporeans prefer to eat street foods or foods in restaurants, instead of eating at home. These “outside” food are usually cheaper than home-cooked foods, but they are oilier and saltier. Many Singaporeans, like Gina’s family, already realized the importance of eating healthier home-cooked foods. However, many of them could not, and would not want to afford the higher cost of the basic ingredients of home-cooked foods, like rice and chicken.

To sum up, the main cause of health issues, of bad eating habits, is low-income.

Impacts

Lots of Singaporeans are unable to have healthier food choices. The unhealthy food choices, including food with high fat, high sodium, high level of preservatives, trans fat, causes lots of impacts on people’s health.

Fried chicken, Singaporean’s favorite, is common and cheap in Singapore. It is a good choice as a snack to many Singaporeans, but without realizing it, they have intake lots of fats. Eating high-fat foods like fried chicken can result in insulin resistance, which could lead to the development of Type 2 Diabetes. Foods we usually eat like popcorn and bacon has high sodium and trans fat and are the main causes of heart diseases, heart failures, and Osteoporosis. Instant noodle seems to be a cheap and convenient choice when people have no time to cook or to go to a restaurant. However, foods like this have high levels of preservatives, which result in asthma-related sensitivity and allergy. Other serious health issues like colon cancer are also caused by eating unhealthy foods.

Impacts of eating foods with high fats:

Impacts of eating foods with high preservatives:

Impacts of eating foods with high sodium:

Sometimes people did not realize that the food they eat is unhealthy. Let's take a look at the nutrition label of Werther's Original Popcorn Classic:

From this table, we can see that the amount of Sodium in 100g of popcorn is 466.67 mg. A healthy daily intake of sodium is 1500 mg and no more than 2300 mg. Normally we eat 5 grams of salt from our meals, which is approximately 2000 mg. If you eat one pack of popcorn every day, you will have a daily sodium intake of 2467 mg, which is enough to cause you to have heart diseases in the next few years. Although popcorn is cheap and accessible to Singaporeans, it causes permanent harm in their body.

These illnesses puts more pressure on the low-income Singaporeans, who cannot afford or do not have time to choose normal healthy foods even without these health conditions.

Solution

As mentioned before, the main cause of the unhealthy food choices of Singaporeans is poverty. Poverty cause Singaporeans to get into the vicious circle: Low income -- Poor food choices -- Health issues -- Low income. Singaporeans choose cheaper and unhealthier foods due to the pressure of low income. A good way to solve the problem is to encourage Singaporeans with rewards like free tickets, coupons, discounts, and promotions. It will extenuate some of their pressure, and guide them with clear instructions towards healthy lifestyles, giving them an opportunity to put effort into being healthy and earn rewards.

In fact, this is what the Singapore Government is doing. The Singapore Government has been marketing an app called Healthy 365. It was a great solution to the food problem in Singapore.

The app is contributed by the Health Promotion Board (HPB), a statutory board under the Ministry of Health (MOH) of Singapore. It was established in 2001 to act as the main driver for national health promotion and disease prevention Programs, "with a vision to build a nation of healthy people". In the system, users can earn "healthy points" through eating healthily and participating in exercise challenges.

The app is very suitable for the food problem. It is totally free and is available on the IOS App Store and the Google Play Store, so everyone with a smartphone is able to download and install it.

After installing the app, Singapore Citizens and foreigners with a Fin id could get a free account. In the app, you can find out how much calories you intake, how much exercises you need to do to get rid of the calories.

You can also see your exercise history in the dashboard. Besides all these functions, the most important feature in the app is its "healthy point" reward system. If the user buys healthy foods in specific shops listed in the app and scans the QR codes while paying, he could earn "healthy points", which could be used to buy coupons or free tickets. Healthy points could also be earned if the user finishes an exercise challenge, which the user has to run in a marked route in the map and burn a number of calories that is suitable for himself. There are also some time periods in the year when users can take part in big challenges. Almost everyone would get a prize, normally around $5 - $10. The person who won the first prize gets $10,000 in cash.

The app did not solve the issue entirely, but it helps a lot. The coupons bought with "healthy points" and the prize from the big challenges was very attractive and useful to the Singaporeans from low-income families. Freebies from the government come easier than saving money via eating unhealthy foods, causing health issues. The app does have an effect on the average health in Singapore. Statistics from the HPB show that in March 2017, 26 million healthier lower-calorie meals have been sold, close to 1,600 food and beverage outlets including major restaurants island-wide offer healthier meal options.

To a large extent, the app is a sustainable solution from the four aspects of "Nature", "Economy", "Society" and "Wellbeing".

Nature

Firstly, the app is 100% environmental-friendly. Users can simply download the app, earn points and get e-coupons, all with a mobile phone. In addition, the activities organized by the HPB do not create any waste that is harmful to the environment, as most of the activities are held in public areas and do not require any big signs or decorations. Therefore the HPB app solution is sustainable from the aspect of nature.

Shaping Healthy Behaviors in the Community

Society

Secondly, the app is sustainable from the aspects of society. The Business Dictionary defines socially sustainable as "the ability of a community to develop processes and structures which not only meet the needs of its current members but also support the ability of future generations to maintain a healthy community." The HPB app definitely achieved this. The activities were very welcomed by the Singaporean participants. Lots of users of the HPB app, who were also participants of the activities organized by the HPB, started to have a more structured lifestyle. They were getting used to the exercising activities and were starting to enjoy it. Statistics in 2016 by the HPB shows that 97% of participants were looking forward to the next year's Healthy Lifestyle Festival. On the other hand, Healthy 365 also supports the ability of future generations to maintain a healthy community. This is achieved through the organizing of lots of family activities. Statistics show that more than 350,000 adults and 40,000 children and youth participated in one of the biggest running challenges called "National Steps Challenge Season Two", and more than 1,000 parents and children have participated in the Active Family program since February 2017. All of these show that the app is socially sustainable and effectively incentivize the Singaporeans to sustain the behavior of incorporating more physical activity into their lifestyles.

Wellbeing

From the aspect of wellbeing, most of the users who use the apps enjoy the discounts, promotions and the activities.

Economy

In the current situation, the government spent quite a lot of money on HPB health activities. Is the money spent on this too much for Singapore? However, comparing to the other countries like Italy, Switzerland, Canada, China, the UK, Sweden, the US, etc., Singapore has the least Healthcare cost as % of GDP. HPB activities must have contributed to the low amount of money the government spent on healthcare and it proves that all the money spent on the health activities were worthy. Therefore, it can be concluded that the HPB app and its activities are economically sustainable.

Conclusion

The main findings from my investigation into the inquiry question are that in Singapore, there is a strong relationship between family income and food choices. Usually, a healthier food costs a lot more than unhealthy foods, therefore the lower a person's family income, the less healthy the food he chooses and the more likely that he will get health issues like Type 2 diabetes without realizing how unhealthy his food choices are. Moreover, there was already a government organization which aims to help improve the food problem in a sustainable way. It has eased the problem and has made lots of small progressions, incentivizing the Singaporeans to sustain the behavior of incorporating more physical activities into their lifestyles. Through all the researches, I have found the answer of the inquiry question: in Singapore, a healthier food costs a lot more than unhealthy foods, therefore the lower a person's family income, the less healthy the food he chooses. The solution is to use the Healthy 365 app made by the HPB.

I consider my conclusions to be quite accurate. I have researched a lot and found an example of low-income Singaporean family through news articles, the contrary of cost between healthier foods and unhealthy food through a local supermarket, the health issues caused by an unhealthy diet and a clear solution to help the problem through downloading the app myself. It would be better if I have more examples of low-income Singaporean families and statistics from different sources. However, overall I still think that my conclusions are quite accurate.

The answer of this inquiry question could lead me to lots of other questions to investigate, such as "How to make the Healthy 365 app simpler to use?" and "What are the mental impacts and consequences of low family income?" There are still so many things to explore in this topic.

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Bibliography

Websites

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Images

[photograph]. Retrieved from https://homeiswhereyourbagis.com/en/10-things-you-should-not-miss-in-singapore/

[photograph]. Retrieved from https://images.unsplash.com/photo-1516496636080-14fb876e029d?ixlib=rb-1.2.1&q=85&fm=jpg&crop=entropy&cs=srgb&dl=chen-hu-523351-unsplash.jpg

[photograph]. Retrieved from https://pagebd.com/video/search/singapore-hawker-recipes.html

[photograph]. Retrieved from https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/healthy-eating-a-challenge-for-low-income-singaporeans-amid-diab-7809936

[photograph]. Retrieved from https://www.hpb.gov.sg/docs/default-source/annual-reports/hpb-annual-report-2017.pdf

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Chuxin LIANG
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