Population gets fatter by the year

Most Hongkongers fail to meet World Health Organisation guidelines for a healthy diet, according to a study conducted last year, which examined the daily consumption of fruit and vegetables.

'The findings were particularly disappointing - only a quarter of people met the recommendations,' said Anne Chee, medical officer of the Department of Health's Central Health Education Unit.

She added that, without a clear food-labelling system, it was sometimes difficult to know the exact content of items consumed.

The Hong Kong diet has traditionally consisted largely of grains and vegetables, but there has been a marked shift towards western eating habits with higher levels of fats and proteins. The local per capita consumption of vegetables decreased by 53 per cent between 1971 and 1997, while the consumption of meat and seafood rose 62 per cent and 867 per cent respectively in the same period.

This change has been directly reflected in the number of people suffering 'lifestyle diseases' like cardiovascular illness, obesity and strokes. As an example, 38 per cent classified as overweight or obese in 2004. That grew to 41 per cent last year.

Dr Chee said that, in fat and protein content, the local diet had come to resemble that of the United States. Fortunately, though, people were now starting to opt for healthier choices at home and when eating out.

The Department of Health launched a pilot programme called [email protected] in July with about 300 restaurants participating. The aim is to offer more fruit and vegetable dishes, and less oil, salt and sugar.

'We want to take the lead,' Dr Chee said. 'We are not asking restaurants to change their menus, but simply to offer more healthy options.'