Recently, a group of four students from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) initiated a health campaign titled ‘Oh My Gout!‘ to not only raise awareness on gout, but also to educate and increase the public’s attention toward the chronic disease in a fun and engaging way.
Singaporeans are no strangers to the “Three Highs” – high blood sugar, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol – a deadly chronic trio which has been shown to increase one’s risk of developing serious illnesses such as heart disease and stroke.
However, many may not have heard of the “Fourth High” – high uric acid levels – which causes gout.
In fact, a local study estimated that 4.1% of Singaporeans suffer from gout, a number which has risen over the past few years.
Gout was once known as a “rich man’s disease” as it was believed to only affect the upper class who could afford rich foods. But in recent years, this is no longer the case. This may be due to the increased standards of living and dietary changes such as a rising trend of local preferences for “richer, sweeter, and saltier foods”.
Increased consumption of alcohol and sugary drinks, as well as sedentary lifestyles are also believed to be major contributing factors to the increased onset of gout.
Annex A: Gout Fact Sheet
While prevalence for this disease has been rising over the years, the last local study to research on the number of gout patients was done in 2012. Thus, the group of undergraduate NTU students took the initiative to conduct a study with 230 Singaporeans men aged 40-60.
The findings revealed that 20% of the participants were clinically diagnosed with gout, which is almost a five-fold increase of gout patients from the 2012 survey.
Despite gout being such a common disease, it is often overlooked. Dr Teng Gim Gee, Senior Consultant in the Division of Rheumatology at the National University Hospital, highlighted the lack of public awareness, saying, “The impact of gout is under-recognised. Singaporeans don’t prioritise this as a disease, perhaps because many don’t know about the chronic nature of gout.”
“Many perceive gout to be just something short-lived. No doubt the pain and physical suffering is episodic, the negative health consequences of gout are significant, such as a higher risk of kidney disease, cardiovascular disease and mortality,” added Dr Teng.
Annex B: Myths about Gout
To further express the lack of awareness about gout in the Singaporean community, it was evidenced by the recent survey conducted by the aforementioned students from NTU’s Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information revealed that amongst Singaporean men above 40, 76% did not believe that they were susceptible to getting it.
However, gout is actually the most common form of inflammatory arthritis in Singapore in men of this age range. The survey also found that while 83% of respondents were confident they knew about gout, while 61.7% were unaware that gout was chronic.
Furthermore, 87.7% did not know gout could lead to cardiovascular diseases, and 63.6% were in the dark about the link towards kidney failure, all of which can lead to an untimely death.
Annex C: Infographic of survey findings
In light of the lack of public attention in the chronic disease of the topic, ‘Oh My Gout!’ campaign was dedicated to counteract this issue. In particular, by playing on the pun of ‘Oh My God!’, a common phrase used to express emotions of disbelief and pain, the campaign aims to call attention to the severity and possible deeper health implications of gout.
It also encourages people to seek medical treatment if they identify symptoms. Besides that, the campaign provides information for the public to do a simple checking or screening of themselves, such as the one seen below.
Annex D: Self-screening of Gout risk
Gerald Koh, Director of Marketing and Programmes at the National Arthritis Foundation, Singapore’s main public organisation, was devoted to helping arthritis sufferers. He believes that increasing public awareness of gout and its associated health impacts is important.
“The incidence of gout on men here is substantial and increasing due to lifestyle and dietary choices, yet not many are fully aware of the burden of this disease. We think that this student-led initiative is therefore a great opportunity to educate the public on the harmful effects of gout and its related kidney and cardiovascular risks,” remarked Mr Koh.
Not forgetting, as part of the campaign’s efforts to raise awareness about this chronic disease, the team has produced multiple video series aimed at educating the public, which can be found on the campaign’s Facebook page.
One of the videos is an edutainment video starring a relatable campaign ambassador, Uncle Ali, for facts about gout in a colloquial manner and gout patient interview videos where they share their experience of living with gout.
Through these efforts, the team hopes to address common misconceptions of gout while increasing awareness of risk of gout amongst the high-risk group of middle-aged men.