Health and wellness

Eating out in Hong Kong tonight? You’ll be lucky to find something healthy, study finds

Survey of hundreds of restaurants and residents shows nutritious meals are hard to come by in this city, despite our love of dining out

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 August, 2016, 4:57pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 August, 2016, 10:47am

Despite many Hongkongers’ ­affinity for staying healthy and ­active, finding a nutritious meal at one of the city’s many restaurants may prove to be a difficult task.

A recent study from Polytechnic University, which surveyed 401 Hongkongers and 305 restaurants, concluded that 60 per cent of eateries did not offer enough substantial healthy food options.

The study found 65 per cent of respondents aged between 15 and 59 years old ate out four or more days a week, and a third ate out every day.

Despite the large number of people dining out so often, the study showed that customers would be hard-pressed to find three healthy main dishes that are either vegetarian or low in salt, oil and sugar.

While 60 per cent of the surveyed restaurants claimed to provide vegetarian or low salt, oil and sugar options, most of these came only in the form of side dishes, such as blanched vegetables and toast.

“This indirectly discourages customers from ordering healthy food, as dishes are not included in a set, which increases costs and time for the customer,” Warren Wong Kin-pong, a researcher at the university’s Department of Applied Social Sciences who oversaw the study, said.

This is in stark contrast to the individual respondents’ results, which found all age groups rated healthiness as important when eating out.

While people below 30 years old prioritised price over healthiness, people over 60 placed healthiness over price and taste.

In total, more than 60 per cent of respondents said finding healthy options was challenging. The issue however, was particularly highlighted by elderly participants, with more than a quarter giving it a difficulty rating of nine out of 10.

The survey recommended the Food and Environmental ­Hygiene Department provide more information for the elderly on the locations of healthy eateries, and pointed out that restaurants were responsible for putting their customers first and should offer more nutritious options.

“Hongkongers have the awareness to eat healthy. But one-hour lunch breaks and long queues test their determination to do so,” Chung Kim-wah, director at the Centre for Social Policy Studies at Polytechnic University, said.

Chung recommended the government make it a legal ­requirement for all restaurants to provide nutritional information on their menus, such as the calorie count. He also believed the government should create a ­reward system for healthy eateries, much like the Q-Mark scheme for quality products and services.

Chung hoped the Committee on Reduction of Salt and Sugar in Food would soon create a label to apply to all foods, including those served in restaurants, to indicate sodium levels.

Bernard Chan, chairman of the committee, said it had rolled out a pilot scheme last month in 80 per cent of staff canteens in hospital authority buildings where around a third of their dishes had calories labelled on the menu.

“This is to test the logistics and feasibility. If the scheme is successful then we can apply it to large restaurants and chains,” Chan said. But the committee does not yet have a timeline for the launch of a calorie count scheme for public restaurants.

Even if rolled out, Chan said it would be “impossible” to apply the label to smaller restaurants because of costs, and difficult to have labels for salt content on menus because of inconsistency in cooking techniques.