TAF Club is just Fat Club spelt backwards. That was one of the many insults that Marcus Ng had to endure when he was a member of that club at Catholic High School from 2003 to 2004
The 19-year-old national serviceman recalls that he and 60 other TAF buddies spent every recess running six rounds totalling 2.4km on the school track while their schoolmates ate in the canteen.
'The TAF Club concept is good but the way they deliver it to us is wrong. Because of the stigma involved, and the lack of interesting activities, none of us was really motivated to lose weight,' said Marcus, whose weight stayed stubbornly at 75kg during the two years.
The Trim and Fit (TAF) programme, however, is now history for the Ministry of Education axed it this year. Introduced in 1992, it was meant to reduce obesity and improve the physical fitness of overweight students.
Replacing it is the Holistic Health Framework (HHF) which will look at a student's physical, mental and social health.
It is meant for all students, not simply for those who are overweight, and aims to generate more interest in a healthy lifestyle among them.
Schools have the autonomy to implement their own programmes to achieve these objectives.
A GenY check with 15 secondary schools revealed that more than half have come up with alternative programmes.
Take the case of Victoria School, whose Sports Fit Club targets both overweight and underweight students. Said vice-principal Mark Minjoot: 'The SFC is for students who are not at their ideal weight. By including the underweight students in the club, we are erasing the stigma associated with the previous TAF Club.'
A multi-prong approach is used. About 100 members now play games like floorball and badminton to increase fitness.
They also learn about which foods are suitable for them in home economics programmes.
Said Mr Minjoot: 'The TAF Club was very regimented. You come, you run, you do a couple of chin-ups, and you leave.
'Whereas for SFC, it is not purely about physical fitness. We bring in games, education and parents' cooperation in such a way that students enjoy it and are committed to staying fit.'
Secondary 2 student Amrit Singh Gili gives the thumbs up for the new tack. Said the 14-year-old: 'I enjoy turning up to play the games very much. This is why I come every day even when it is not compulsory.'
The 1.82m tall teenager has already shed 6kg and now weighs 105kg. His schoolmate, Shiva Shankar, 13, also takes part in the club's daily games even though he is not overweight.
'I enjoy playing the games very much and it's a good way to keep fit,' he said.
Another school, Bedok South Secondary, has also taken steps to boost health and fitness levels.
In addition to the normal Physical Education lessons, it has also lined up an extra four periods per week for the Mass Physical Education. This provides a platform for everyone to exercise together in activities such as hip-hop dancing, kick-boxing, aerobics and endurance running.
PE head Roskhaider Bin Mohamed Saat said: 'This year, we don't differentiate the TAF students from the other students as we promote holistic programmes.'
Another innovative school is Ahmad Ibrahim Secondary School, which did away with the TAF Club in 2005.
'We had to do something proactive to change the students' lifestyle,' said principal Steven Chin.
So out went the regimented TAF Club exercises and in came fitness through games. Each term, the school organises inter-class sports competitions for every level. It also runs an annual Sports Enrichment Programme which features exciting activities such as inline skating and kayaking.
More significantly, the school has made efforts to create spaces for the students to play sports after school. For example, it has placed eight table-tennis tables at various spots in the school and strung up volleyball nets at open spaces. It is now trying to put up badminton nets too.
For Sec 5 student Muhammad Khairul, all these options have helped him lead a healthier lifestyle. The former TAF Club member is no longer overweight, thanks to staying back after school to play soccer or volleyball for three hours daily.
Said the 17-year-old who is 1.76m tall and weighs a healthy 70kg: 'I'm glad the school is doing more to ensure the fitness of students.'
This article was first published in The Straits Times on Feb 24, 2008