1 in 5 primary school children in the city overweight

More than 60,000 youngsters are considered obese and a health official says more effort should be put into promoting a proper diet

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 December, 2012, 2:18pm

One in five children in the city are obese - despite a slight drop in the percentage compared to last year - the Health Department said yesterday

The latest government study showed a small reduction in the number of obese children for the second year in a row. The department said this confirmed that a slow declining trend was under way, but that more should be done to battle a global tendency towards weight gain.

"The achievement is the result of an increased awareness in society, and the concerted efforts of schools, parents and students," said Dr Regina Ching Cheuk-tuen, who is the assistant director for health promotion. A child whose weight exceeds 120 per cent of the median for his or her height is considered obese.

Under that definition, the department yesterday announced that the obesity rate among primary pupils this year was found to be 20.9 per cent - which means over 60,000 children in a population of some 300,000 children. Some 25.6 per cent of boys are obese and 15.9 per cent of girls.

When the study began in 1997, only 16.4 per cent of children were fat - but the proportion has increased steadily ever since, reaching a peak of 22.2 per cent from 2009 to 2010.

Since then, the number has fallen slightly, to 21.4 per cent last year and slightly less this year.

"It's an international trend for affluent cities to have more people become obese," Ching said. "Hong Kong, like other places, should put more effort into promoting a healthy diet.

"The biggest obstacles to a healthy diet are the advertising for fast food and snacks, and a lack of exercise amid the modern lifestyle."

An Eat Smart campaign, launched by the department to tackle childhood obesity in 2006, had helped to raise public awareness and concern about healthy eating, Ching said.

Stella Chan Lai-cheng, the principal of King's College Old Boys' Association Primary School No2, said she signed her school up for the campaign because of her alarm over obesity levels.

"There were many overweight students at our school. I saw some of them having difficulty going up the stairs. They had to hold the banister and walk up slowly. That was when I started thinking to myself, 'I really have to do something about this'."

Chan said pupils would not object to healthy food and exercise if they were promoted in fun and appropriate ways.

Some 206, or 34 per cent of 600 primary schools, have joined the campaign.

Ching said there were factors that could hinder schools joining the scheme. "Some parents still believe in the Chinese traditional value that it's good for a child to be 'fat and white'. Some schools may put a higher priority on academic results than promoting a healthy diet. But awareness has been notably increasing."