Singapore was recently recognized as the sixth Blue Zone, joining a distinguished list that includes Okinawa, Japan; Ikaria, Greece; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; and Loma Linda, California. This concept of "Blue Zones" was popularized by Dan Buettner, a journalist and researcher who developed the term to describe areas around the world where residents enjoy longevity and good health.
Common traits shared by residents of these regions allow them to achieve longevity, including eating a plant-based diet, exercising regularly, and living a purposeful life. Unfortunately, this picture contrasts with the reality experienced by Singaporeans, raising questions about the appropriateness of the country's newly acquired Blue Zone status.
Is Singapore really a Blue Zone?
Singapore's recognition has raised doubts among locals due to the stressful lifestyles and unhealthy eating habits common in the country. Buettner describes Singapore as an "engineered blue zone," distinguishing it from five other countries that achieve longevity naturally. He explains that by modern standards, Singapore has created a healthy population with longevity.
The country's average life expectancy has reached 83 years in 2022, more than a decade above the global average. The number of citizens reaching the age of 100 has also doubled, from 700 in 2010 to 1,500 in 2020. But despite these impressive statistics, locals argue that life in Singapore is a far cry from the idyllic image of other Blue Zones.
While it is acknowledged that there have been improvements in quality of life compared to previous generations and a better understanding of nutrition, the general opinion among locals is that achieving longevity may be linked to the existence of sophisticated medical support. However, this does not necessarily translate into achieving optimal levels of health or happiness.
According to Insider, while Singaporeans have easy access to cheap street food, most of it is unhealthy. According to HealthXchange.sg, a website managed by SingHealth, the country's largest healthcare provider, dishes such as fried kway teow and roti prata have a similar nutritional profile to fast food.
As for stress levels, a survey conducted by insurer Cigna in April-May 2022 found that stress levels in Singapore are higher than the global average. Of the 1,001 respondents aged 18 to 65 living in Singapore, 86% reported stress levels, higher than the global average of 82%. In fact, about 15% of Singaporean respondents had difficulty coping with stress.
Last year, Singapore and New York City were named the most expensive cities in the world by the Economist Intelligence Unit, beating out other cities such as London and Hong Kong. On the other hand, a survey conducted by the Singapore Management University (SMU) in August 2022 revealed concerns among Singapore's senior citizens. SMU surveyed 6,839 residents between the ages of 57 and 76 and found that one in three respondents said there was a 50 percent chance they would have difficulty paying bills or buying basic necessities.
Cracking the Enigma of Singapore's Blue Zone
Singapore's recognition as a Blue Zone appears to be largely based on the country's proactive efforts to improve the quality of life for its residents and increase their life expectancy. Buettner revealed that Singapore's inclusion in the Blue Zones list is based on health-adjusted life expectancy data from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, a Washington, DC-based research institute.
This suggests that Singapore was named a Blue Zone using a different approach than the methods Buettner used in his previous Blue Zones research, which involved highly detailed demographic studies that tracked individuals from birth to death.
Still, Buettner sees Singapore as a good example of how a city should be configured, with an emphasis on factors such as infrastructure, public transportation, and food options. He also notes that Singaporeans may not always identify their country as a Blue Zone, perhaps because they tend to compare their conditions to themselves rather than to other regions.
And it is important to note that, despite the challenges and doubts that have arisen, Singapore's strategic efforts to create a healthier population and longer life expectancy have proven to be a success, as evidenced by the statistics.