Half of Hongkongers aged 15 or older are overweight or obese, and the number of alcohol drinkers has doubled over the past decade, according to a citywide health survey by the government.
The study of more than 12,000 people representing a 6.5 million-strong demographic, conducted between December 2014 and August 2016, painted a damning picture of dietary habits in the city.
More than 86 per cent were found to be consuming too much salt, nearly 50 per cent had high cholesterol, and almost 60 per cent suffered from one or more conditions of hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol.
Compared with the findings of the last large-scale health survey of more than 7,000 people 10 years ago, the estimated population with overweight problems increased from 2.25 million to 2.97 million, while the high cholesterol demographic expanded from 1.8 million to 2.9 million.
The number of overweight people rose from 17.8 per cent to 20.1 per cent, while obesity increased from 21 per cent to 29.9 per cent.
The survey predicted a 10.6 per cent risk of cardiovascular problems, including coronary heart disease, stroke, peripheral artery disease and heart failure, among people aged 30 to 74 over the next 10 years.
“The government should lead cross-sectoral action to change unhealthy lifestyles and curb the prevalence of chronic diseases as the city is ageing quickly, otherwise the public medical system as well as the economic impetus will be under great pressure,” Director of Health Constance Chan Hon-yee said.
She highlighted the sharp rise in alcohol consumption as a particular concern.
Ten years ago, 61.6 per cent of those surveyed claimed to be teetotallers, but 61.4 per cent admitted to being drinkers this time.
Although the average age at which they first started drinking remained at around 20, more people confessed to binge drinking over the year before the survey – from 2.2 per cent in the previous study to 9.6 per cent in the latest.
In addition to drinking more alcohol, 86.3 per cent of Hongkongers were found to be consuming excessive salt and 94.4 per cent were not eating enough fruits and vegetables.
On average, they had 2.3 servings of fruits and vegetables, and 8.8 grammes of salt in their daily diet, contrasting with the World Health Organisation recommendation of at least five servings of fruit and vegetables and no more than five grammes of salt.
Chan noted that about 80 per cent of heart diseases and 40 per cent of cancer cases could be prevented by a healthier diet, increased physical activity, and abstinence from tobacco and alcohol. Few were aware that alcohol had been classified as a Group 1 carcinogen by the WHO, she added.
“The affordability of alcohol has a direct impact on people’s drinking habits, and we will express our concerns to relevant departments,” Chan said.
But she would not link the increased drinking to the lifting of wine duties in 2008: wine and liquor with an alcoholic strength of not more than 30 per cent by volume are tax-free in Hong Kong.
Chan also noted the government had introduced a bill in June to the Legislative Council aimed at prohibiting all sales or supplies of alcohol to anyone aged below 18 year, while the Health Department had rolled out educational programmes to discourage drinking among youth.
“Non-drinkers are advised not to start drinking, while drinkers should gradually decrease their drinking to reduce harm,” Chan said.
To step up monitoring, the health minister said, her department would also shorten the intervals between major surveys by conducting household-based health behaviour studies every two years and population health surveys with physical measurements and biochemical testing every six years.