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LCQ4: Obesity and overweight

     Following is a question by the Hon Frederick Fung and a reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr York Chow, in the Legislative Council today (October 20):


     It has been reported that the problem of obesity in Hong Kong is very serious, with the obesity rate among school children rising from 16.7% in the 1996-1997 school year to 22.2% in the 2008-2009 school year, representing a drastic increase of 5.5 percentage point within a decade; and it seems that the various healthy lifestyle campaigns launched by the Government all these years were not effective.  For example, 171 primary schools participated in the "" campaign implemented in 2009, but the number of accredited schools was minimal; moreover, the obesity or overweight rate among the people in Hong Kong remains high at 40%, coming close to the level of 60% in the countries in Europe and America, which poses higher risks of chronic diseases and a heavy burden on long-term healthcare expenditure.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the overall strategy currently employed by the Government to promote a healthy lifestyle among the people, including healthy eating and sports for all, etc.; apart from the assessment of food consumption patterns of primary students conducted in 2008, whether the authorities had reviewed, in past five years, the efficacy of the various initiatives and campaigns implemented to promote a healthy lifestyle and people's eating habits; if they had, of the outcome and the reasons for the failure or success of the initiatives and campaigns; if not, whether the authorities will conduct a review; and

(b) whether the authorities will set short-term and medium-term targets for reducing the obesity or overweight rate among the people in Hong Kong to a low level, and adopt enhanced, or even mandatory, measures to reverse the current high calories, high fat and high sugar eating environment in Hong Kong and to develop a habit of regular exercise, so as to achieve those targets, e.g. regulating advertisements and publicity of junk food, prohibiting schools from selling junk food, requiring lunch box suppliers in schools to provide healthy menu, banning the sale of junk food and beverages through vending machines in public places and government facilities managed by the authorities (e.g. parks, games halls and office buildings of government departments, etc.), encouraging schools and employers to provide students and employees with more opportunities for exercise, and establishing more sports facilities?



     The rising trend of overweight and obesity has largely been attributed to the lifestyles of unhealthy dietary habits, wide availability of high fat and sugary foods and lack of physical activity.  Medical researches indicate that such unhealthy lifestyles cause many non-communicable diseases (NCD) such as heart disease and diabetes.  In this connection, the Government has been actively promoting a healthy lifestyle with a view to improving the health of the public.  My reply to Hon Fung's question is as follows:

(a) With a view to improving the health of the public and to mitigate the burden brought by NCD, the Department of Health (DH) has launched the "Strategic Framework for Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases" ("the Framework") in October 2008 with the objectives to foster a healthy environment, promote community health, prevent NCD and reduce the progression of NCD and avoidable hospital admissions, and provide high quality care for NCD.  Meanwhile, we have set up a Steering Committee on Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases comprising representatives from the Government, public and private sectors, academia and professional bodies, related industries and other key partners to oversee the development of the Framework and the progress of its implementation.  To address the pressing problem of obesity, a working group has been established under the Steering Committee to handle matters related to diet and physical activity.  The working group launched in September this year an "Action Plan to Promote Healthy Diet and Physical Activity Participation in Hong Kong" which outlines the specific actions to be taken by various government departments and relevant organisations in the promotion of healthy diet and physical activity participation in Hong Kong in the coming few years.  The Action Plan is available on the website of DH.

     DH has all along been in collaboration with the related sectors in launching a number of major territory-wide health promotion and publicity campaigns, which are in line with the initiatives advocated by the World Health Organisation in its "Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health".  These campaigns include the "" Campaign and the "" Campaign, etc.  In the 2009/10 school year, over 400 primary schools (including special schools) participated in the major activities of the "" Campaign, representing about 65% of all primary schools in the territory.  As for the "EatSmart School Accreditation Scheme", which was launched since the 2009/10 school year under the umbrella of the "" Campaign, 171 primary schools have participated in the Scheme with 16 of them having attained accreditation so far.  According to the findings of the Baseline Assessment of Promoting Healthy Eating in Primary Schools conducted by DH in 2008, there were significant increases in the proportion of students who chose healthier food and in the proportions of students and parents who would take account of nutritional values in choosing their food in comparison with the assessment conducted in 2006.

     As breastfeeding can prevent subsequent childhood overweight and dietary habits developed during infancy play a crucial role in shaping an individual's eating patterns, DH has been promoting breastfeeding and enhancing the training of healthcare personnel.  At present, DH monitors the trend of local breastfeeding rate through collecting monthly reports from all public and private maternity units.  The ever breastfeeding rate in Hong Kong increased from 50% for babies born in 1997 to 73% for those born in 2008.

     The "" Campaign launched by DH has received favourable response and support from the catering sector.  So far over 1,000 catering workers have received training and 613 restaurants are providing EatSmart Dishes to customers under the Campaign.

(b) As I have mentioned earlier, the Administration attaches much weight to the issue of NCD caused by obesity and overweight.  We have been promoting awareness of the importance of healthy eating habits among different age groups through various channels.

     To further collect information on the diet and physical activity participation of infants and young children in Hong Kong, DH is currently conducting a series of surveys on parental knowledge, attitude and practice of feeding infants and young children, the level of physical activity of infants and young children as well as their food and nutrient intakes.  In addition, DH will collaborate with some 30 pre-primary institutions to conduct a pilot project with a view to extending the promotion of healthy eating and physical activity participation to all pre-primary institutions in Hong Kong in the light of the actual experience gained.

     As for the issue of obesity among school children, dieticians will provide individual counselling for school children who are overweight during the health check-up currently provided by DH for primary one to secondary seven students.  In light of individual circumstances, school children who are overweight will be referred to the Hospital Authority (HA) for follow-up by a specialist in paediatrics or invited to join DH's Regular Exercise and Fitness Training Course or HA's Exercise and Keep Fit Course.  Since 2009, DH has also informed the schools of the number of their students who have been identified as overweight over the last school year, with an aim to encourage the schools to promote healthy eating and regular exercise among their students, and give their support to build a healthy school environment for school children to practise healthy lifestyles.

     To provide guidance and assistance for schools in developing a healthier and more sustainable eating environment in schools, DH has launched the "EatSmart School Accreditation Scheme" since the 2009/10 school year.  Under the Scheme, schools are motivated to develop top-down and bottom-up policies and measures on healthy diet, and with full cooperation between home and school, to effectively implement the food quality requirements issued by DH regarding the supply of lunch and food available at school tuck shops/vending machines.  This serves to ensure that there will be a "nutrition friendly" environment for school children in their learning and nurturing.

     In addition, DH has also launched an outreaching Adolescent Health Programme to conduct activities in secondary schools to promote students' psychosocial health.  The activities are targeted at the youth's concern over their bodyweight and self-image, and other issues related to nutrition information and development of a healthy lifestyle.  DH has also continued its collaboration with the Leisure and Cultural Services Department to promote the participation of people of different ages in the "Healthy Exercise for All Campaign" and encouraged students to join the School Sports Programme in support of the Education Bureau's policy.

     President, from the experience we have gained from the above campaigns launched to promote healthy eating, it can be seen that the public are well aware and recognise the importance of healthy eating.  Nevertheless, dietary patterns and choice of food are closely related to daily lifestyle and socio-cultural factors.  The effective tackling of the issue of overweight in our population requires concerted efforts from our society as a whole and collaboration between the Government, public and private organisations, academic and professional bodies, media and members of the public and also needs to be proceeded in a systematic and step-by-step manner to ensure more cost-effective utilisation of resources.  Through implementation of the "Strategic Framework for Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases" as well as various measures and activities, we will continue to actively promote a healthy eating culture and public awareness of the importance of regular exercise with a view to improving health of the public.

Ends/Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Issued at HKT 17:33


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