City should offer health education appropriate to different cultures

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 01 October, 2012, 4:21am

The population of South Asians living in Hong Kong has grown in the last two decades.

Their culture with regard to religion, health issues and diets is very different from that of local Chinese. In the South Asian diet, fried foods are commonly served at religious celebrations and family gatherings. They are high in calories and can cause weight gain. Reused fried oil contributes to heart disease.

South Asians still have the misconception that greasy food is healthier and full-fat dairy products more nutritious. These dietary practices contribute to obesity and to the development of hypertension, diabetes and heart disease.

Many international studies report that South Asians are at higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease. But information on the health of South Asians in Hong Kong is limited.

A health screening programme was conducted by the United Christian Nethersole Community Health Service from August 2011 to March 2012, with 753 South Asians taking part. A total of 443 (59 per cent) were found to have at least one cardiovascular risk factor - high blood pressure, high blood sugar level or high body fat. This indicates that more than half of the participants were at risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

Among this high-risk group, 250 (56.5 per cent) were Nepalis, 130 (29.3 per cent) Indian and 63 (14.2 per cent) Pakistani. The Nepali group had more people with high blood pressure and high body fat, whereas the Indians comprised the biggest ethnic minority to have high blood sugar levels.

Unhealthy lifestyles are detrimental to an individual's health and will place a burden on Hong Kong's health care system. The health needs of South Asians will inform the health care policy on ethnic minorities.

Though it is not possible to alter an individual's genetic composition, risk of developing chronic disease can be reduced by having a healthy lifestyle. Modifying traditional cooking methods, picking the right food and maintaining a regular exercise pattern are crucial. With the differences in religion, health beliefs and dietary practice, translating the existing health educational material for South Asians is inappropriate.

There is an urgent need to develop new, culturally appropriate health educational material and use a culturally sensitive approach to promote the health of South Asians.

Chair Sek-ying, professor, Eliza Wong, assistant professor, Nethersole School of Nursing, Chinese University; Joyce Tang, medical director, Sharmila Gurung, project manager, United Christian Nethersole Community Health Service