IT'S LUNCHTIME AT the popular business haunt Dot Cod in Central on a cold Monday. All around, diners are ordering heavy three-course meals, with wine and beer. There are plenty of healthy options on the menu such as grilled fish cooked Asian-style and tomato-based pastas, but chips and buttery garlic mash look to be the order of the day. Dietician Gabrielle Tuscher looks around. She estimates that at least eight of the diners seated nearby in this cosy downstairs eatery are overweight. 'On that table over there, all the people are overweight - and they're eating deep-fried, soft-shell crab,' she says. 'The man on my right is putting butter on his white bread, drinking beer and smoking.' Most of the plates going back to the kitchen have been well cleaned up - except two that still have their green salads untouched. 'A good option for a healthy lunch order would have been the pan-fried red emperor without a buttery sauce, or the baked salmon with black beans, chilli and garlic,' Tuscher says. 'The roast or steamed free-range chicken is also fine. You can always get steamed rice or a baked potato with it, and ask them not to put sour cream or butter on.' Doctors and health professionals say that far too many executives are setting themselves up for poor health later in life. And it's not just the long hours and business lunches that are to blame. 'The lack of physical activity is a big problem,' says Robert Ho Ting-kwok, a neurologist at the Canossa Hospital Brain Centre and medical director of Cenegenics Medical Institute age management clinic. 'When people get to a certain age, they can't do any exercise when they finally have the time. If you don't look after your joints and you're no longer so flexible, then you just can't do it. It becomes a vicious cycle. Your bone density deteriorates and your muscles become weak. You're much more prone to injury. When people are young, they think they're invincible and their bodies can handle anything.' Ho blames the city's business culture. Many people regard Hong Kong as a place to work hard and play hard - without worrying about the future. 'They don't even know about [disease and health troubles] until they start getting problems,' he says. Ho says he sees many hard-working executives with dietary and weight-related problems - the likes of diabetes, strokes and injuries such as fractures. A lot of them - particularly men - say they're too busy to exercise or eat properly. A man over 40 needs at least three hours of exercise a week if he wants to keep up his physical abilities later in life, Ho says. And he doesn't accept the excuse that people don't have enough time. 'They have time for happy hour,' he says. 'If they want to exercise, they can. You're only talking about three hours a week. You have to make the commitment. The only way to stay in shape for your retirement is to do it now.' Whereas obesity looks likely to soon overtake smoking as the No1 killer in the US, Ho says the disease is more insidious in Hong Kong. 'In the US, there's so much more frank obesity,' he says. 'In Hong Kong we need to look more at body shape, or body mass index. People here can look a bit plump - as opposed to obese - but their body mass index is high. In other words, your weight isn't proportionate to your size.' General practitioner Brian Walker says there are three key factors in good health: exercise, nutrition and mental health. Many people with hectic working lives fall far short in all three areas, he says. People usually think they're healthy until they get sick. And then they expect their doctor to be able to fix them up - as if their health was a wallet and the doctor an ATM. 'It's particularly bad here because it's a high-stress environment,' Walker says. 'The working environments aren't healthy. People are bent over their desks for long hours. Their meals are secondary to their work.' Walker recommends eating three small meals and three snacks a day, plus supplements and eight glasses of water. 'You have to think outside the box,' he says. 'For example, have a healthy lunch made for you and go kayaking. It doesn't have to be tennis or running. Treat your health like a business plan and stick to it.' Back at Dot Cod, Tuscher points out that, although the vegetables look delicious, they're shiny - a sure sign that they're covered in butter. The soup of the day is spinach, made with cream and finished off with a generous dollop on top. This might taste good, but it's probably not the best for anyone watching their weight. 'I just saw a sandwich go past, and on the side was a huge helping of French fries,' Tuscher says. 'That prawn cocktail is full of mayonnaise and ketchup. And the other table has had their bread basket filled three times.' Isn't it difficult to eat healthy food if you have to eat out? Not at all, Tuscher says. Most upmarket city restaurants will tailor your meal. 'Avoid deep-fried or gratin of anything,' Tuscher says. 'Switch from garlic mash and hollandaise sauce to tomato, and have grilled or steamed fish in a Chinese style so you can have it with soy. The same goes for pasta. Order the tomato-based sauces.' Why is it so difficult for people to balance exercise, diet and their career? 'Time,' says Tuscher. 'People might be working in IFC or some other big building, which all have gyms, but they don't have the time.' But, as Ho says, it just depends how much you value your health.