Health chiefs say obesity is a serious problem, especially among older men and women Obesity has become a serious problem in Hong Kong, a government health officer warned yesterday after a survey found that nearly 40 per cent of the city's population is overweight or obese. Of the 7,000 people aged 15 or above polled in a survey by the Health Department, 18 per cent were overweight and 21 per cent obese. The poll was done between March 2003 and April last year. A person is considered overweight if his body mass index is 23 t 24.9 and obese if it is 25 or above. The index is calculated by dividing the square of a person's height in metres by their weight in kilograms. 'Obesity has become a serious problem and the situation in Hong Kong is similar to other developed countries in Asia such as Singapore and Japan,' the department's senior medical and health officer, Ho Mei-lin, said. Twenty-two per cent of males and 20 per cent of females interviewed were obese. 'Though our situation is not as bad as in the US and Europe, we are talking about over 40 per cent ... this is a serious problem and we must take action,' Dr Ho said. The fattest group in the study was middle-aged men aged between 55 and 64. About 55 per cent of men in this age group were overweight or obese. The same age group also came top as the fattest female group, with 54 per cent of women between 55 and 64 overweight or obese. Despite the popular trend towards slimming in recent years, Dr Ho said that because of their lifestyle, Hongkongers have less chance to exercise. 'We now rely very much on machines and technology, and we do not have to use our physical strength as much as before. We used to walk up and down stairs but now we take lifts,' she said. The survey found about 33 per cent of Hongkongers aged between 15 and 64 were physically inactive, and those between 25 and 34 did the least exercise. 'Our analysis showed that they were mostly deskbound clerks. They are busy all the time with their work and family and they have little time to do sport.' A departmental dietitian, Koo Pui-wai, said the recommendation for individuals doing exercise for 30 minutes several times a week was only helpful for keeping a person's weight at the same level. 'If one has to lose weight or prevent unhealthy weight gain, that person has to do more exercise, such as doing exercise for about 45 to 60 minutes on most days or every day,' she said. She also reminded the public to live a healthy life by having a balanced diet, with a high proportion of vegetables, fruit and fibre, and to avoid dessert, dim sum and food that is too sweet, oily or salty.