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Health and wellness

Hong Kong preschoolers not eating enough fruit and vegetables or getting enough exercise, study shows

Worrying Department of Health study shows that just six per cent of youngsters were eating enough fruit and vegetables, and many parents were unaware of how much physical activity their children should be doing each day

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 September, 2018, 7:02am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 September, 2018, 7:02am

Hong Kong preschoolers are not eating enough fruit and vegetables or doing enough physical activity, according to a Department of Health study, with only six and 29 per cent meeting the recommended amounts respectively.

The research released on Tuesday also found that while kindergartens and parents have made strides in their habits to control youngsters’ sugar intake, there is still a lot of room for improvement.

The department surveyed 380 kindergartens and child care centres and 3,639 parents of K2 children from November 2016 to March 2017.

“According to parents, 43 per cent of children ate fruit daily, while 60 per cent ate vegetables every day,” Dr Anne Fung, the department’s assistant director of health for health promotion, said.

But only six per cent ate enough fruits and vegetables – at least two servings of each per day, she added.

Just as worrying was that only 43 per cent of parents knew the recommended amount of fruit for children aged four to six.

On physical activity, 71 per cent of preschool pupils did not meet the minimum recommended requirement of 180 minutes per day.

Pupils who attend full-day kindergarten classes, spending about eight hours in schools, did better, with 62 per cent not meeting the requirement. Those attending half day preschool classes, spending about three hours in schools, fared worse with 77 per cent not meeting the requirement.

Hong Kong’s youngsters not getting enough exercise, study shows

Fung explained this could be due to parents being busy and not arranging for sufficient physical activity, which would affect those attending half-day kindergarten classes more as they spend more time at home.

She added only 15 per cent of parents knew about the recommended physical activity time, with half of them thinking the figure was 60 minutes instead.

“Having the children pack their own bags and helping with chores also count as physical activity, which should be complemented with exercises like going to the park and skipping,” Fung said.

The survey also found that 51 per cent of schools provided instant drinks – which are high in sugar content, while 45 per cent of staff and 42 per cent of parents used food, such as biscuits and candies, as rewards.

While all the percentages went down from over 60 per cent in the 2013 edition of the poll, the last time it was conducted, Fung noted there was still room for improvement.

“The issue with using food as a reward, for say good results, is that it will lead to children associating food with emotions and encourage them to eat even when they are not hungry,” Fung said.

No child’s play for Hong Kong kindergartens to fit in sufficient exercise time

Kenny Chiu, Po Leung Kuk’s principal education secretary for pre-primary education, said that instead of using food as a reward, teachers could reward pupils by letting them lead activities or be leaders of small groups.

Chan Sze-wan, principal of Yan Chai Hospital Ming Tak Kindergarten, said her school does activities like sports and games days for pupils and their parents to encourage them to move around more.

On refreshments, Chan noted that the school arranged for two days for them to have fruits and vegetables.