Hong Kong people must heed message on how to live healthier lives

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 May, 2015, 12:31am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 May, 2015, 12:31am

So long as increasing longevity keeps Hongkongers at or close to the top of global life expectancy rankings year after year, healthier lifestyles remain a hard sell. That is not to say we do not heed medical warnings to abstain from or cut down harmful habits, as opposed to acting on advice about healthy habits. The Department of Health's latest annual behavioural risk survey, for 2014, shows that over 10 years the rate of heavy drinking - consuming at least five cans or glasses of alcohol at one sitting - dropped from 10.2 per cent to 6.8 per cent of the population, while the smoking rate dropped from 15.7 to 10 per cent.

While those figures are testament to the effectiveness of powerful public health messages, the survey showed that we have done little else over the decade to cut our risk of developing cancer and other lifestyle diseases by heeding advice on diet and exercise. Lack of exercise contributed to the 39 per cent of overweight adults - those with a body-mass index of 23 or above. Indeed, more than 60 per cent of the sample size of 2,000 respondents aged 18 to 64 did not meet the World Health Organisation recommendation of at least 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity a week.

The rate of consumption of fruit and vegetables, which reduces the rate of chronic disease, has barely moved against the department's benchmark over the 10 years. It recommends people eat at least five servings a day. Eighty-one per cent failed to do so last year compared with 82.3 per cent in 2004.

To put these patterns into perspective, the number of cancer deaths in the 10 years to 2013 bucked the overall longevity trend, rising by 18 per cent, or 1.4 per cent a year, and accounted for nearly one in three of 43,399 deaths in 2013. The WHO says a healthy lifestyle would prevent at least one-third of all cancer cases. The department is to be commended for launching a campaign to promote healthier living. Hopefully, when combined with a colorectal cancer screening programme to be launched by the end of the year, it will raise awareness of prevention through behavioural change.