Updated: Nov 3
Congratulations to Singapore (locally known as the Little Red Dot) for becoming a Blue Zone 2.0 We’ve been fans of Dan Buetnerr’s work for a long time now, so to hear him bestow ‘engineered Blue Zone’ status on Singapore brought a smile to our faces. But he also has some people perplexed.
If you are unfamiliar with Singapore, this equatorial island nation is a densely populated city of around 6 million, 45km west to east and 25km north to south. The entire country is smaller than London, Paris or Los Angeles.
Buetnerr can label Singapore however he wants, he coined the term, but is he right? It is true that the transformation of Singapore has been nothing short of miraculous, both as a metropolis and in terms of its people’s lifespan. Singaporeans' healthspan, like any developed society, leaves much room for improvement. The government has identified and prioritised the problems associated with the rapidly ageing population, obesity and Singapore’s world beating rate of diabetes. And they have been working damn hard to address these pressing issues. Engineering change, engineering health, will take much longer than building pathways the Buetnerr refers to but they are already investing the money and making change happen.
So what has perplexed - perhaps even, irked - our friends so much? Firstly, Buetnerr’s statement on Singapore being the happiest place in the world. What about being one of the ‘most expensive’, ‘most stressed’, ‘longest working’ or ‘least likely to have children’ they point out. And we all know that Singapore's local cuisine, it might well be delicious but healthy it is not. Or is it? As a 2018 study discovered. What about the endemic 24hour fast food delivery culture? “Buettner” they ask “did you speak to anyone on the street?”.
Buettner remarks that the government subsidises healthier ingredients for healthier meals. At the same time, the government's own Health Promotion Board endorses sugar rich and sugar sweetened beverages as Healthier Choices.
Whilst government may dictate and nudge there is however a collaborative and pragmatic approach in dealing with the public that goes unseen by outsiders. Public consultation in planning is becoming more frequent and visible.
Perhaps the one area that Buettner touched on but underplayed in the documentary are the strong community bonds and social ties that form the fabric of society. Kampung spirit (village spirit) reigns strong here, even in an urban setting. Based on the close proximity of family members to each other and, as Buetnerr identifies, encouraged by the government.
Mr. Buettner, you have come to Singapore with an open heart and an interest in the works in progress that you have shared with the rest of the world. Perhaps you have been a little blinded by Singapore's glitz, but that’s not uncommon. To my sceptical, perplexed, even irked, friends: let’s take the win, ignore the television show hyperbole. Look at what Singapore has already done and petition for more.
Blue Zone 2.0 or not, we all have a personal responsibility to take care of our own health. Despite the long work hours and high costs of living, there is so much opportunity for health available to us. Let’s keep on addressing work-life balance, make use of our fantastic park connectors, enjoy the grants for living close to our families and engage with the government to make the city – the country - the best that it can be.
Engineered for health, Singapore neighbourhoods provide residents with multiple opportunities for physical activity and exercise...
Learn more about Blue Zone living in our review of the Blue Zones book.
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