HK bosses lose out on health

DO HONGKONG executives take their health seriously? Apparently not, according to some doctors and psychiatrists.

They work in one of the most stressful environments in the world, put in long hours, keep unsociable hours and tend to treat their health as a secondary issue.

True, many executives play the occasional round of golf, swim, play a little tennis or squash and jog but are they really healthy? According to Dr Cheung Wai-lam, a consultant with the Harrison Medical Centre in Central, Hongkong's executives are not as healthy as they should be.

Indeed, when compared with their counterparts in the United States and Japan they fall way behind when it comes to health.

Another doctor said: ''Executives tend to take their health for granted. They are paid extremely well, work hard and, I would guess, play hard as well. But they forget that there is so much their bodies can take especially when you move into the 40-plus age bracket.

''If an executive burns the candle at both ends with no time off for relaxation, and by that I don't mean playing the occasional round of golf, he or she will soon burn out.

''The stress level of living and working in Hongkong only adds to the problems executives face.'' Dr Lam said: ''My overall impression is that most executives in Hongkong don't take their health as seriously as their European, Japanese or North American counterparts.

''Stress, coupled with the lifestyle Hongkong offers, does not create healthier executives. And these executives don't help themselves very much by eating the wrong foods, drinking and smoking.'' Dr Lam said expatriate and Chinese executives suffered the same problems.

''It is all very well to finish your working day with a vigorous game of squash . . . but if you are a little overweight and stressed out it could kill you.'' But all is not doom and gloom for the executive. Attitudes are changing, albeit slowly.

The Harrison Medical Centre caters for more than 100 corporate clients and provides some of the most advanced medical equipment available in Hongkong for examining patients.

An executive examination can take up to two hours from head to toe and cost about $3,000. For a corporate client, it is obviously cheaper.

But Dr Lam said the cost was nothing compared to the health and well being of your executive.

Executives in their 40s, he said, were most vulnerable. ''They may think they are fit and can cope with stress. But that is not often the case with their bodies.

''The body is like a car . . . If the engine is not checked regularly it will eventually stop working.'' Some of the problems executives face include high blood pressures, high cholesterol which can lead to heart problems and high glucose.

''There is no point waiting until you get sick to see a doctor,'' Dr Lam said. ''People should be more aware of the stresses and strains on their bodies. They should be aware of diet and should take time out to relax and that does not mean taking the junk out on the weekend, along with the portable phone and finishing off some business.'' Dr Donald Li, chairman of the public education committee of the College of General Practitioners, agrees Hongkong executives do not pay as much attention to their health as their counterparts elsewhere in the world.

But that is not to say they do not care about their health. ''It all comes down to a question of education,'' he said.

''In Japan, for example, corporate executives undergo intensive health screening programmes at least twice a year. In the US it is once a year.'' In Hongkong there are a lot of packages on offer for corporate executives for what is now called health maintenance which involves tests to determine such things as heart problems, stress levels, diabetes and cancer.

''Health maintenance is all very well but the question has to be asked: do these hi-tech examinations create a false sense of security in the patient? ''A check up today does not mean you'll be OK next week,'' Dr Li said.

''Many factors have to be taken into account. Obviously anyone over 40 should think of their health more seriously than say a 20-year-old. Obviously if you drink, smoke and are a little overweight you are more prone to problems.'' Dr Li says executives should have regular medical checks but believes in the more personal approach.

''Executives worried about their health should first see their own doctor who knows the patient and family history,'' he said.

''Talking with the patient and knowing that patient is what medicine is all about.

''If the executive talks to his doctor the doctor can determine whether he or she needs to go for extra tests and what sort of tests to see if there is a problem developing.

''The point is that many people who go for these package tests don't really need them.

''Annual regular checkups depend on the individual and some may not need them as regularly as others.

''Everyone is different and everyone has varying degrees of tolerance and stress. Obviously . . . your body will soon say enough is enough.''