Good health good for wealth

PHOTO: Good health good for wealth

"To good health, a long life and prosperity" - we hear these words often, during gatherings with friends, in birthday toasts, and many celebrations that come our way.

Indeed, all three are what many Singaporeans aspire to.

It is interesting to note that the way we understand good health and long life has changed dramatically over the past century.

The World Health Organisation now defines health as "a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity".

While our last line of defence against illness takes place in the hospital, more and more Singaporeans today understand that their first line of defence against illness begins at home.

Today, we have become more discerning about what we eat and drink, the risks we take and how we work, rest and play.

As a result, we are generally better fed and have the financial means to take better care of ourselves.

Our life expectancy is, in fact, one of the best in the world at 80 years for males and 85 years for females, compared to 70 years and 75 years respectively 30 years ago.

Spending on health care has also increased.

Health-care spending made up 5.3 per cent of our monthly household incomes in 2007-2008 compared to 3.5 per cent in 1997-1998.

This increase in health-care spending and life expectancy is also a phenomenon unfolding across most parts of Asia, including China and India, the most populous countries in the world.

The appetite for good health does not just extend to medical treatment.

It is also seen in the wide range of health supplements and beauty products such as vitamins and skincare items in retail chains all across Asia.

Cosmetic surgery, meanwhile, is huge business in some countries: South Korea leads the world in terms of the number of cosmetic surgery procedures per capita.

Good health has therefore become good business.

As life expectancy grows, Singaporeans are also increasingly concerned about supporting themselves in their silver years.

According to the Singapore Exchange-commissioned discussion paper Retiring In Comfort, Singaporeans hold far more of their retirement savings in cash and less in shares than people in many other nations. Cash has potentially lower returns while shares have historically outperformed many other investments over the long term.

The paper suggests that investing in shares over the long term may help Singaporeans achieve potentially better long-term returns on their retirement savings.

Through share investing, individuals also have an opportunity to be part-owners of businesses. In recent months, Singaporeans have become more aware of the benefits of long-term share investing.

With Singaporeans' propensity to invest in their health, and growing awareness of the potential benefits of long-term share investing, it may make sense to marry the two.

After all, Singapore boasts many companies in the business of helping customers feel good and live healthier and longer lives.

So well-known is Singapore's health-care industry that thousands of international medical tourists come here each year to seek medical advice and care in our private hospitals.

The business of good health in Singapore extends beyond Western health concepts to Eastern ones.

Chicken essence, Tiger balm heat rub and Indian ayurvedic products are widely consumed or used.

The opportunity to become a part-owner of health-related businesses is made easier by the fact that many of these companies have shares listed on the Singapore stock market.

A decade ago, only five companies from the health-care equipment and services sector were listed on SGX.

Today, 16 shares listed on the SGX offer exposure to increased health spending not just in Singapore, but also across Asia.

Investing in good health is therefore well within the reach of the average Singaporean.

Geoff Howie is a market strategist at the Singapore Exchange.

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