A “TAF” Nut to Crack

For a whole generation of students, the TAF Programme was synonymous with reducing obesity among school-going children. But for members of TAF Club, it was also synonymous with name-calling, peer pressure and body image issues. So how ideal has the programme really been in helping members get tougher?

Being conscious of body image, being forced to spend half of recess skipping under the sun, and being the butt of jokes. These were what my fellow TAF club members would have gotten a taste of from a tender young age.

The TAF programme, also known as “Trim and Fit” or “FAT” spelt backwards, was established in 1992. It is an initiative by MOE to target child obesity and enable all children to achieve the ideal weight.

In 2007, MOE replaced the programme with what is known as the Holistic Health Framework, or “HHF”. They acknowledged that students were under peer pressure, and that there was a stigma against overweight people. These were compounded by possible bullying and cases of eating disorders.

So was the TAF programme ever effective? Or was it just a mistake that should have never been considered?

I was 10 when I “qualified” for entry into TAF club. I remembered hearing my name loud and clear over the microphone, in front of the whole school that year. With all the negative talk about TAF club, I was certain that I had fallen into a black hole.

Looking back, I will never forget the humiliation that went on for two years. All the name calling and discrimination during physical education lessons was what affected me the most. I felt I was more concerned with the fact that I looked like a swollen ball, rather than how unhealthy I actually was.

Honestly speaking, such concerns about one’s appearance should not start even before one’s teenage years, and I strongly believe it could have been avoided. The TAF programme was meant to encourage healthy living. Being physically fat is just the outcome of being unhealthy, and should not be the focus. Appearances should not be what TAF members are bothered by.

The problem clearly lies with the way the TAF programme was brought across – as a place of discrimination and isolation, rather than a health and fitness group for those who were overweight. What was the point of making someone do skipping exercises in front of the whole school during recess? The root of the problem was not tackled and the process was not well thought through.

A TAF life
A TAF life

For me, the exercises didn’t end in school. (Photo: Siew Min Kua)

I did get out of the club eventually – thanks to one classmate who shouted across the class, “You fatso, you’re short and fat!” That was the meanest comment I had received when I was overweight. For two-and-a-half years, I put up with every finger that was pointed at me during my exercise sessions, every nickname I was called, every boy who said I would stay single forever, and every girl who doubted that I would look any better. I wanted to prove to them that I was worth so much more.

Thus, in the same way, TAF club did work for some – in the “forceful” way it made one lose weight through the judgement of others. It is true that humiliation does serve as a source of motivation, and through it we can learn lessons. I ended taking up sports, quitting gassy drinks and ultimately learning that being healthy was for my own good. And I have managed to stay clear of being overweight ever since.

After all is said and done, although the experience I went through was a difficult and painful one, I am not suggesting that programmes like this be scrapped. Instead, I would say that the humiliation factor could have been minimised and handled better. There are those who try to gain sympathy while being unaware of the consequences of obesity, and others who need assistance in their weight management. If you were to ask around, you would find many success stories of those who managed to overcome obesity through different circumstances in TAF club.

This is where the usefulness of the HHF programme comes in. It promotes regular exercise by hiring external vendors for programmes like in-line skating and trampoline classes. These sessions are scheduled after school away from the crowd. Looking at my younger brothers attending it weekly, I see their eagerness and the fun that I never managed to feel. More consideration has been taken for the students’ well-being and for that, it is already a better programme than TAF.

A healthy meal
A healthy meal

This is what a healthy meal looks like. (Photo: Lean Physique Meals)

More recently, the Healthy Meals in Schools Programme (HMSP) has also been introduced. Under this programme, canteen vendors are made to sell healthy set meals, with food from the four main food groups. I believe that this measure has far more benefits. One’s poor diet is most often the cause of obesity, while exercising is seen as the cure. Is prevention not always better than the cure?

A child’s health is fundamental to his or her future. Furthermore, this issue has an impact on our society in the long run. Since being overweight potentially leads to health risks, if left unchecked, it may produce a workforce of unhealthy adults with different medical conditions. Would that not be disastrous?

Many a time, we do not instill the importance of being healthy just because a child is “still young”. The consequences can be dire. Medical science has taught us that our health is vital. By getting one’s mindset right from a young age, be it by cultivating a habit of exercising regularly or by eating healthy, one would definitely ensure a more positive outcome in one’s growing years and hopefully, thereafter.

Top photo: A very tired sleeping cat, Honey the Fat Cat

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author’s and do not reflect the opinions or views of Inconvenient Questions or its editorial team.

About the author
Kua Siew Min is an intern at Inconvenient Questions. She enjoys reading and discussing controversial topics. She is currently pursuing a diploma in Mass Communication at Republic Polytechnic.