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The obesity epidemic is one of the world’s most serious public health problems.  Overweight and obesity are the fifth leading risk for global deaths and major risk factors for a number of chronic diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer.


It affects high-income countries as well as an increasing number of low- and middle-income countries.  In 2008, 1.5 billion adults, 20 and older, were overweight. Of these, 500 million were obese. Nearly 43 million children under the age of five were overweight in 2010. [WHO]. 


In Singapore, four in 10 adults aged 18 to 69 were overweight in 2010. Of these, one in ten were obese, more than doubled the level seen in 1992. Over half face heighted risk for chronic diseases because of their weight. [Singapore’s National Health Survey, 2010]


Rising costs from the obesity epidemic are putting serious strain on healthcare and social resources worldwide.  The costs for overweight and obesity can be direct and indirect. Direct medical costs include preventative, diagnostic and treatment services related to overweight and associated co-morbidities. Indirect costs include income lost from decreased productivity, reduced opportunities and restricted activity, illness, absenteeism and premature death. 


Unlike many other health problems, overweight and obesity are, in most cases, preventable.  Individuals can limit calorie intake and engage in regular physical activity.  However, research on behavioral economics shows that individuals often behave irrationally, meaning that people are highly influenced by societal and environmental factors and as a result may eat too much and exercise too little for their own good. 


The Obesity Team, headed by the Deputy Head of HSSR Dr. Eric Finkelstein, aims to help tackle the obesity epidemic through the use of incentives to effect behavioral change.  We do this via a number of ways:

  • Coming up with innovative solutions to deal with obesity;
  • Contributing to the body of scientific research on the role of incentives on obesity prevention and reduction;
  • Working closely with the Singaporean Government in developing interventions that are evidence-based and applicable to real-world setting; and
  • Disseminating knowledge on best practices.

You can find a summary of our current projects below.

Obesity Projects

A Blueprint for Identifying a Successful Walking Program Targeting Singaporeans Age 50+

Description: Funded by the Virtual Institute for the Study of Ageing (VISA) at National University of Singapore (NUS), this is a 2-year study which seeks to identify a successful walking program targeting Singaporeans age 50 and above. This project provides a roadmap for designing a walking program for older Singaporeans that has high...

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Trial for Incentives on Obesity (TRIO)

While evidence-based weight loss interventions can be effective in lowering the weight of obese individuals and improving their health, uptake in these programs tends to be low and, in the majority of cases, weight loss is not sustained. Trial for Incentives on Obesity (TRIO) is a 12-month randomized controlled trial which aims to incorporate theory-based economic incentives into evidence-...

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An Exploratory Randomized Controlled Trial of a Novel Family-Based Intervention to increase Outdoor Time for the Prevention of Myopia and Increase Physical Activity among Singapore Youth

This study aims to develop, implement, and evaluate a novel incentive-based family intervention to increase time spent outdoors and increase physical activity among children aged 6 to 10 years in a 1-year exploratory randomized controlled trial. Involving a 6-month physical activity programme comprising structured outdoor activity sessions, pedometers and modest financial incentives, success...

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