Singapore's been named the world's 6th Blue Zone. Some locals are skeptical.

Singapore skyline.
Singapore recently joined author, Dan Buettner's list of Blue Zones, regions where people live the longest, healthiest, and happiest lives.

  • Singapore was recently named the world's sixth Blue Zone.

  • But some locals told Insider they are skeptical of the title.

  • "Singaporeans are usually sleep-deprived and don't exercise that often," one Singaporean said.

Charlotte Mei was traveling in Europe when she first heard that Singapore, her home country, had been named a Blue Zone.

"The minute people hear that I live in Singapore, they are like, 'Oh I just recently saw Singapore. It's like the new Blue Zone,'" the 31-year-old nutritionist told Insider.

"I was like, 'Where did you read this fake news?' And then I realized it was part of the Netflix show," Mei said.

Mei was referring to author Dan Buettner's hit Netflix documentary, "Live to 100." Buettner has spent 20 years studying Blue Zones and has written eight books on the topic, including his latest book, "Blue Zones: Secrets for Living Longer." Blue Zones, Buettner says, are "confirmed longevity hot spots."

Singaporean nutritionist Charlotte Mei initially thought that the news of Singapore being a Blue Zone was fake.
Singaporean nutritionist Charlotte Mei initially thought that news of Singapore being named a Blue Zone was fake.

"The reason they're living a long time is not because they pursue longevity, but because longevity ensues," Buettner said of Blue Zones in an interview in August with Insider.

Buettner has identified five Blue Zones: Okinawa, Japan;Ikaria, Greece;Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya. Costa Rica; andLoma Linda, California. In August, he added Singapore to the list.

Buettner drew a contrast between Singapore and the other five Blue Zones. In the documentary, Buettner called Singapore a "engineered blue zone" versus the other five locations, which he said have developed their cultures and traditions organically.

In his latest book, Buettner lauded the success of Singapore in "proactively improving the quality of life of its citizens." He also wrote that the island state is now among the world's "healthiest, happiest, and longest-lived places on the planet."

Singaporeans do live relatively long lives.

The life expectancy in Singapore rose to an average of 83 years in 2022, according to demographic data released by the Singaporean government in May. That is more than 10 years higher than the global life expectancy of 71 years, per the World Bank. The number of centenarians — people aged 100 and above — doubled from 700 in 2010 to 1,500 in 2020, per a populations trend report released by the Singaporean government that year. That was 0.0002% of the local population of 5.69 million recorded in 2020.

However, some Singaporeans Insider spoke to said that life in their home country feels markedly different from the descriptions they've heard of the other five Blue Zones.

Representatives for Buettner did not respond to a request for comment from Insider.

A long life doesn't mean it's happy, healthy, or Blue Zone-esque, some Singaporeans say

Singapore's East Coast Park.
Singapore's East Coast Park (pictured above).

Mei was not the only Singaporean to express skepticism about the country's Blue Zone status.

Kian Peng Er, a photographer, told Insider that he didn't think Singapore fulfilled the basic characteristics of a Blue Zone.

"Our life is quite stressful. The cost of living is high and housing is expensive," Er, 54, said. "You can live longer merely because of better medical support. But you are not healthy or happy."

Homemaker Karen Lim told Insider that her lived reality was also a far cry from Buettner's description.

"Honestly, I find it hard to believe," Lim, 65, said of Singapore's Blue Zone status. "Singaporeans are usually sleep-deprived and don't exercise that often."

"Just look at their diets," Lim added. "Young people these days are chugging bubble tea daily. Food sold outside is also quite salty and oily."

Some millennials say it's too expensive to age gracefully in Singapore

Several millennials Insider spoke to said they aren't surprised that Singapore is regarded as a Blue Zone, thanks to the city-state's investment in healthcare and integrated care.

Sugyanto Suryono, an executive director who frequently volunteers to care for the elderly, believes ease of access to medical care in Singapore is why many people live longer.

"Every four kilometers, you can find a polyclinic or hospital. We have Medisave too, which helps cover the costs whenever we get sick," Sugyanto, 36, said. MediSave is a scheme that requires Singapore citizens and permanent residents to save part of their income for their medical needs.

And while public healthcare remains relatively affordable, the cost of living in Singapore has been a cause of concern for many people looking to grow old in the city-state, Sugyanto said.

Last year, Singapore was named the most expensive city in the world, beating out major financial hubs like London and Hong Kong, according to a report by the Economist Intelligence Unit. It ranked first out of 172 cities, tying with New York City, per the report.

"I've engaged with the older generation when I'm volunteering, and their main concern is always about money," Sugyanto said, noting that some public housing apartments can cost up to $1 million Singapore dollars, or around $730,000.

Isaac Liu, a consultant, believes that people's quality of life in their old age depends on how much money they have access to, especially in an expensive city like Singapore.

"I think whether there's an incentive to live a longer life depends on the economic strata you're in," Liu, 31, told Insider, adding that many people in Singapore feel anxious about whether they'll have enough money to retire comfortably.

"If you look at our parents' generation, they benefited from Singapore's high economic growth in the past. They have been slogging our whole life but there's still a significant number of people worrying about their financial status," Liu continued.

Retirees in Singapore need an average of around SG$1,379, or some $1,012, every month, to make ends meet, according to a 2019 report by the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

Sugyanto said he believes the cost of living in Singapore will negatively affect the quality of life for people when they age.

"There's a very big concern about the cost of housing, cars, and everything else. Right now Singaporeans haven't felt the full extent of it yet, because we have a lot of subsidies. But there's a threshold to this," Sugyanto said.

Buettner crowning Singapore a 'Blue Zone' is a 'glowing' report — but it's just the 'tip of the iceberg'

Ian Ang, an assistant professor at the National University of Singapore's Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, questioned Buettner's data and metrics for declaring a region or city a Blue Zone, and whether these metrics are scientifically sound.

Ang told Insider that it would be "difficult" to say if Singapore deserves to be on that list or not considering that lack of clarity.

"To me, I am confused as to how it was determined that Okinawa alone, and not other parts of Japan, are considered to be a Blue Zone," Ang said.

"Without comparative data for us to know for sure why a region or city is declared a Blue Zone over another, especially even within the same country, there really is no way of knowing how Singapore truly compares with these other places," he added.

Reuben Ng, an assistant professor at the National University of Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, told Insider that Buettner's assessment appeared to be based on a narrow set of indicators.

"When I looked at some of the stuff he said about Singapore, it was really glowing," Ng said. "But I think sometimes, that's only the tip of the iceberg."

"When you see, superficially, numbers like this, I think we need to understand the lived experience behind the numbers. The lived experience sometimes presents a more complex sort of perspective," Ng continued.

One problem pointed out by Ng was the prevalence of ageism in Singapore.

"For people who are retrenched from their jobs in their fifties or sixties, it's very hard for them to find a job again," Ng said. "Jobs are very important for purposeful living, finding motivation in life, and keeping you healthy."

Ng told Insider that he thinks Singapore could be "so much more" and have more potential to be a true Blue Zone, if it took a good look at how it gives older people agency and the ability to age gracefully, and with purpose.

"For other groups that are not aging as well, not as healthy, not as happy, what more can we do for them?" Ng said.

"In my opinion, Singapore may look like a Blue Zone from 30,000 feet," he added. "But you'll come to realize, actually some zones in Singapore are more 'blue' than others. The thing to identify is which zones are less blue, and focus our efforts to improve them."

Experts say life in Singapore is far too stressful for it to count as a Blue Zone city

The fact that Singapore is one of the most stressful countries in the world makes it even harder to believe it's a Blue Zone.

A 2022 survey conducted by insurance company Cigna last year found the country's stress levels to be significantly higher than the global average.

According to Cigna's survey, 86% of 1,001 respondents reported feeling stressed. And around 15% of the respondents self-reported that they were struggling to cope with stress.

Andy Ho, a psychologist and associate professor at Nanyang Technological University, told Insider that when it comes to mental wellness, there's still much room for improvement in Singapore.

"I think there's still a gap in terms of where we want people to be in terms of mental wellness and what is currently available to help them to get there," Ho said, adding that Singapore's healthcare system has been largely fixated on medical care.

Ho noted that, unlike other Blue Zones, Singapore is a relatively fast-paced and competitive society.

"Children and young adults, even at a very young age, know they are in competition with others," Ho said.

That was the experience Mei, the nutritionist, had during her schooling years in Singapore.

"I would get really stressed in school. I used to get tonsilitis every month because I was stressed from the pressure," said Mei, who told Insider she eventually left the Singaporean education system to go to an international school abroad.

Charlotte Mei
Nutritionist Charlotte Mei told Insider that she used to get tonsillitis every month while studying in Singapore.

"Living in a city with hustle and bustle, constantly being stressed, you're running from one place to another, I don't think that supports a high life expectancy," she said.

Blue Zone living in Singapore might be possible — it all boils down to one's mindset and personal choices, expert says

Okinawa was one of five other Blue Zones that were identified by Buettner.

Mary Chong, an associate professor at the National University of Singapore's Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, told Insider that Singapore's affluence might hinder, not help its ability to attain full Blue Zone status.

"In theory, the environment is set up to allow people to lead healthier lives. But at the same time, because Singapore is quite affluent, we also have many food choices. The temptation is there," Chong said.

Singapore launched the National Steps Challenge in 2015. The government claims that the challenge is "is the world's first population level fitness tracker-based physical activity initiative."
Singapore launched the National Steps Challenge in 2015. The government claims that the challenge is "is the world's first population level fitness tracker-based physical activity initiative."

Singapore is known for being a food paradise, with its famed hawker centers selling cheap and delicious meals. In 2020, Singapore's hawker culture made it into UNESCO's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

But some local hawker fare could be just as unhealthy as Western fast food.

According to, a website run by SingHealth, the country's largest healthcare provider, dishes such as fried kway teow and roti prata have the same nutritional profile as fast food.

Singapore's government has tried to bolster the population's health and well-being. It's provided grants to food and beverage businesses to incorporate healthier options into their menus. In 2015, it also launched the National Steps Challenge, a countrywide initiative to get people to log as many steps a day as possible.

But Chong pointed out that Singapore's humid weather as well as people's hectic lifestyles could stop people from participating in such fitness programs.

"In the end, the Blue Zone is really a personal choice. Every individual has a Blue Zone within themselves, but it really depends on what they choose," she added.

Read the original article on Insider