Childhood obesity is a problem that has not received the attention it deserves. There is a common but dangerous misperception that an extra few pounds at a younger age does no harm. Some parents even find chubby children more adorable and are quite happy to see their waistlines grow more than they should. But the worrying truth is that obesity can lead to life-threatening conditions like diabetes and heart disease. The situation will only worsen unless there is intervention at an early stage.
Thankfully, health officials have some encouraging news. The percentage of students deemed overweight has continued to drop over the past few years, down from 21.4 per cent in the 2010 school year to 20.9 this year. Sadly, the rate is still significantly higher than 16.4 per cent 15 years ago. Some 60,000 of 300,000 primary school children are still considered obese.
That one in five of our youngsters is obese is hardly surprising in an affluent city like Hong Kong. A fast-food culture and a sedate lifestyle have added to the problem. Children are more likely to be tied up by private tutoring and computer games than by sports and outdoor activities.
The drop in obesity rate, which officials say is partly attributed to a government eat-healthy campaign, could have gone down further had more schools participated. Only 200-plus primary schools, one-third of the total, have joined the programme. The number of schools that managed to attain accreditation for implementing healthy eating policies and catering is even lower. With just 69 of them appraised as "eating smart", there is still a long way to go before the campaign can be hailed a success.
Nutritious diets in schools are just one of the ways to keep children fit. The war against obesity is not complete without engaging parents at home. They have direct responsibility for nurturing healthy eating habits and family lifestyles. The problem has to be tackled with a community-wide effort driven by clear goals, sound policies and determination.