About Obesity

Rates of obesity in Singapore

Obesity affects around 8.7% adults in Singapore.1 It is often poorly misunderstood despite it being a serious and long-term health condition which can impact individuals, families and society in multiple ways.

Obesity is a long-term disease with associated health complications

Obesity is a commonly misunderstood and long-term disease that needs to be managed accordingly – it is not a lifestyle choice. Despite efforts to lose weight through watching diet and doing daily exercise, people can still have a hard time losing weight and keeping it off. Science has proven that willpower is far from being the only factor to regulate weight.

This is because obesity is caused by a combination of genetic, biological, lifestyle, environmental factors and even life events. Therefore, watching one’s diet and exercise alone are not always enough for weight loss and to maintain that weight loss.

Did you know that our metabolism rate slows down after weight loss?

The human body adapts to exercises and that same exercise will burn less calories when performed regularly over a period or the body releases strong hunger driving hormone in response to weight loss.

These contribute to weight regain, and the weight yo-yo effect often seen after weight loss

Despite this, people with obesity rarely seek professional medical help because they believe it is their responsibility alone to manage their weight loss.

Obesity is linked to over 200 other diseases2, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, osteoarthritis, infertility in women, sleep apnoea and an increased risk of 13 different types of cancers such as liver, kidney and breast.3

More than half of adults with overweight or obesity in Singapore feel weight management is completely their responsibility.4

Factors and causes of obesity

Obesity is influenced by many factors, including physiological, psychological, genetic, environmental and socio-economic factors. Research shows that obesity is not a lifestyle choice but in fact a complex disease. And as with any disease, there’s only so much that one can do with lifestyle changes alone. The truth is our bodies are hard-wired to hang on to those extra calories and store it, because for thousands of years this was a basic survival mechanism.

Better understanding the causes of obesity can help you better treat and manage your weight loss in the long term. Talking with your doctor about your daily habits, medical history and family medical history can help to determine the best weight management options for you.

A person’s genetics, depending upon their family history may predispose them to developing obesity or may determine the extent to which external or environmental factors impact their weight.5

Weight management can be impacted by stress and any psychological disorders.

Many aspects of our environment such as frequent food cues due to marketing, easy access to abundant food, a sedentary lifestyle and lack of physical activity result in an energy imbalance and favour weight gain.

Cultural influences and socioeconomic status can also affect consumption of energy-dense foods such as those high in fat and affect overall attitudes towards body image.
Lack of sleep and disruption to our sleep patterns can lead to weight gain.
Did you know that obesity can lead to infertility and reduced sexual function?

Stigma and obesity

People living with obesity have to constantly deal with bias, prejudice, criticism or judgement in some form and it can greatly impact their quality of life, confidence, and ability to talk to their family, friends, or a professional who can help manage their weight. As the cause and management of obesity is often greatly misunderstood, it can be seen as self-inflicted and often causing people with obesity to feel as though they are to blame or facing stigma, which can have a significant impact on their mental health. This often prevents people from coming forward to seek help for their health.

Stigmatising and negative attitudes can exist in various situations, ranging from inequalities in employment and healthcare settings, to disparities in education. Weight stigma has been shown to increase the likelihood of developing mental health conditions such as depression and low self-esteem, which are related to poor health-related quality of life.

Talking with a healthcare professional can help you to find ways to talk about any stigma you may be facing and how you can achieve weight loss that is sustained, in a way that’s right for you and for your body.

1 in 3 has the goal of having more energy and to improve appearance; yet nearly 1 in 3 wouldn’t consider discussing their weight with their doctor.4


  1. Data.gov.sg, Prevalence of Hypertension, Diabetes, High Total Cholesterol, Obesity and Daily Smoking. Available at https://data.gov.sg/dataset/prevalence-of-hypertension-diabetes-high-total-cholesterol-obesity-and-daily-smoking?view_id=9e547abf-3667-4a09-ab5f-df60068ec278&resource_id=c5f26f19-b6aa-4f4f-ae5b-ee62d840f8e7. Last
    accessed February 2021.
  2. Scott I. Kahan, MD, MPH. Practical Strategies for Engaging Individuals With Obesity in Primary Care. Mayo Clin Proc. 2018;93(3):351-359
  3. CDC, Cancers Associated with Overweight and Obesity Makeup 40 percent of Cancers Diagnosed in the United States. Available at https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2017/p1003-vs-cancer-obesity.html Last
    accessed February 2021.
  4. Online survey for Obesity Awareness among adults with overweight or obesity in Singapore. Commissioned by SASO and Novo Nordisk, conducted by YouGov Singapore Pte Limited. December 2020. Data on file
  5. Hebebrand J, Hinney A, Knoll N, Volckmar A-L, Scherag A. Molecular genetic aspects of weight regulation. Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2013;110(19):338-344.
  6. Whitlock G, Lewington S, Sherliker P, et al. Body-mass index and cause-specific mortality in 900 000 adults: collaborative analyses of 57 prospective studies. Lancet. 2009; 373:1083–1096.