Shoppers in dark about health

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 August, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 August, 2001, 12:00am

Hong Kong people are the least knowledgable in Asia about dietary supplements despite being the second biggest spenders on health foods, a region-wide survey has found.

Out of 1,030 people surveyed in the SAR, only 62 per cent had an overall knowledge of health supplements on the market, such as their ingredients and functions.

The figure compares to 69 per cent in Taiwan, 72 per cent in Thailand, 82 per cent in Malaysia, 83 per cent in Singapore and 91 per cent in China.

The six-country study of more than 6,000 people aged from 15 to 60 was conducted between March and May by Singapore-based international health food manufacturer and supplier Cerebos Pacific.

Only 37 per cent of Hong Kong people have a knowledge of manufactured 'Western' health supplements such as vitamins and minerals.

A higher percentage - 45 per cent - know about natural or 'traditional' supplements, such as chicken essence, bird's nest and ginseng.

But the findings show Hong Kong people spend an average of US$22.47 (HK$175) a month on health supplements - the second highest after Singapore, where people spend an average US$24.35.

Professor Thomas Wong Kwok-shing, head of the department of nursing and health sciences at Polytechnic University, who helped carry out the survey, said he did not find the results surprising.

'We can see many Hong Kong people do not know what they have taken. They will go for something that is widely promoted before they have found out what it is all about,' Professor Wong said.

'However, their enthusiasm usually does not last long. They will go for new products when the fad surrounding the old product dies out.'

The findings show the SAR has the lowest frequency in taking health supplements among the six places - only 32 per cent take them regularly and the remaining 68 per cent take them monthly, or in a 'sporadic' manner.

The survey reveals people on the mainland have the highest awareness of health supplements, although they have the second- lowest spending on the products - US$14.48 a month. Thais spend the least each month - US$11.96.

Of those taking health supplements in China, 85 per cent take them daily or regularly - the highest frequency of use in the region.

Professor Wong said people in China were 'smarter consumers and better at taking care of themselves' because they earned less, which meant they spent their money more carefully.

Consumer Council chief research and testing officer Connie Lau Yin-hing said many consumers in Hong Kong sought information about the health products only after they had started taking them.

'We find the decisions of people to buy the products are based on the claims in the extensive promotions of the products rather than actually trying to find out the contents and function of those products,' she said.

'However, they then become worried after reading some news about the possible side effects from the products and seek our advice.'

According to Census and Statistics Department figures, 177,379kg of bird's nests and 1.5 million kilograms of chicken essence were imported into Hong Kong last year, with a total value of more than HK$1 billion.