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Hong Kong must act now to save its children from stress

Once again, a survey has found that a large number of the city’s young are suffering from stress, anxiety or depression; either we accept this as part of our reality, or we can take action to remedy this worrying problem

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 June, 2018, 5:30am
UPDATED : Friday, 15 June, 2018, 5:30am

Hong Kong has such a stressful learning environment that there is no need for another study to tell us how bad the situation is. But when an interest group revisited the long-standing problem with a new survey, the findings again made the headlines.

With a third of our children said to be suffering from stress, anxiety or depression, it would be wrong to dismiss it as just another study.

The Hong Kong Playground Association is to be commended for prompting some soul searching on the mental and physical health of our youth. Using assessment tools devised by Australia’s University of New South Wales, up to 30 per cent of the respondents were classified as having moderate to extreme depression. The figure for anxiety was even higher, at 39 per cent.

While the World Health Organisation recommends at least an hour of moderate to vigorous exercise per day for those aged five to 17, the association found that only 4.7 per cent of those surveyed were getting that much physical activity. Children aged six to 12 only sleep 7.9 hours on average a day, compared to the nine to 12 hours recommended by the United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. The survey covered more than 3,100 youngsters aged six to 24.

The outcome is hardly surprising in a city known for its obsession with studying and extracurricular activities such as music and art. When given a choice between an hour of physical exercise or learning a musical instrument, parents are likely to opt for the latter, simply because it can impress schools and teachers more. Even more alien is the concept of giving children free time to play.

Why allow them to wile away precious time when it can be spent on something useful for school admission in future? Also to blame is the pressure-cooker school environment. Our exam-oriented learning culture means studying always comes first. Even though physical exercise forms part of the curriculum up to secondary school, the lack of sporting facilities has severely hampered what students can do during such lessons.

Our future lies in the physical and mental well-being of our younger generation. We can resign ourselves to the present situation and lament again when the next survey comes around, or we can instil behavioural and institutional changes through policy and actions.