The number of overweight Hongkongers with metabolic syndrome, which greatly increases the risk of stroke, has almost trebled in the last quarter of a century, a health expert says.
More than one in four local adults has the condition, which also increases the risk of heart disease and diabetes, according to Dr Dennis Wong Chung-tak.
In 1990, the figure was less than one in 10 - and he believes the growing popularity of Western-style fast food is to blame.
"I believe the main reason for the increase is the change of diet," said Wong, a consultant surgeon at St Teresa's Hospital. "Unhealthy diet and lifestyle leads to obesity - the main cause of metabolic syndrome."
A person has the syndrome if they are overweight and have at least two of five symptoms: abdominal obesity, elevated triglycerides, low high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, hypertension and impaired fasting blood glucose. The risk of stroke is trebled, while the chance of heart disease and diabetes also rises.
Figures from the Centre for Health Protection show that one-third of local adults are overweight or obese based on their body mass index. The global average is just 14 per cent; for Southeast Asia, it is 3.7 per cent.
Citing figures from a study in the journal Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders last year, Wong said 28.8 per cent of Hong Kong adults could be considered to have metabolic syndrome. It was just 9.6 per cent in 1990.
Cardiologist Ho Hung-kwong said people with metabolic syndrome had a higher risk of blood vessel blockage, which, if occurring in the brain or heart, would result in a stroke or heart attack.
But Hongkongers were becoming more health-conscious and improving their diets in recent years, he said. The rise in patients with the condition could be due to genetic factors or a growing trend for people to have regular health checks, he said.
Wong said patients could reduce metabolic risk factors by losing weight, adding that they should try to lose weight through diet or exercise before considering more radical action.
But another option - weight-reduction surgery - should be considered for those who failed to shed the kilograms by more conventional means, he said.
Wong, who specialises in such procedures, said only about 100 such operations were performed in the city last year. He said patients could undergo bariatric operations, such as laparoscopic sleeve gastrectomy - which reduces the stomach from the size of a football to that of a banana.
In Hong Kong, the stomach-reduction operation has a mortality rate of 0.3 per cent and a complication rate of 9 per cent.