HK government carrying out survey to update database on growth changes in children

25-Nov-2020 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:51 AM Print This Post

Signs of early puberty and other generational changes in physical development among children have prompted the Hong Kong government to carry out a large-scale survey to update the city’s 27-year-old growth data.

Growth charts are used to compare a child’s height, weight, body mass index (BMI) and head circumference with their peers. They also help clinicians and health care professionals detect underlying diseases in children and assist the government to formulate policies accordingly.

But the ones currently used in Hong Kong were developed in 1993, which are based on data from children who mostly grew up in the 1970s and 80s.

Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.

The new growth survey, rolled out in the third quarter of this year, aims to collect data from a representative sample of about 20,000 people aged 0 to 20. It is expected to be completed by the end of 2021.

“The target of the data collection is to create more representative growth charts of this generation’s children in Hong Kong,” said Dr Patrick Ip, clinical associate professor of paediatrics and adolescent medicine at the University of Hong Kong.

In the first phase of a three-year growth study in 2019, researchers from Chinese University, the University of Hong Kong, and the Department of Health reviewed government figures and international literature, and found that the city’s current growth charts had data gaps.

“I think the analysis of data from phase one suggests that there might be some slightly early puberty, which could affect growth. Some of the gaps were heights at the different ends of the age range and the period when children grow very fast in the first five years of life,” said Tony Nelson, professor of paediatrics at Chinese University and principal investigator of the study.

“It’s important to move onto phase two [the growth survey] to fill those gaps and use this evidence to make the best decision of what would be the best charts for Hong Kong.”

Environmental factors, such as diet, lifestyle habits and socio-economic development, also play a role in influencing growth, the researchers said.

Dr Winnie Tse Wing-yee, a paediatrician, said the current growth charts were “getting outdated”, while noting that the data had implications on policymaking.

“It was done almost three decades ago, and with the economic and social changes… there’s definitely a secular trend [changes across generations]. I think it’s timely, if not too late to do a territory-wide growth study again,” she said, adding it would help update the current health condition of children.

Tse pointed out the 1993 growth study showed that 10 per cent of healthy girls had onset of puberty before the age of eight, which helped correct health care professionals’ understanding of it.

“It’s just an observation of a phenomenon so doctors and parents don’t have to be overly concerned if such pubertal signs appear,” she said, noting earlier onset of puberty had no implication on a child’s health condition.

But data showing higher rates of obesity and sedentary lifestyle among children could help push lawmakers to carry out new policies for schools, Tse said, such as building more sports facilities and ensuring children get enough exercise at school.

“We have a general feeling that our children in many ways enjoy more advantage in society compared to three decades ago, however are our children really healthier than before if we are facing more children who are overweight and obese? The policymakers will only listen when we have solid data,” she said.

“It’s important good habits are instilled in early childhood. [Schools are] the best place to provide the necessary good habit training. We always have to protect children and make sure they have a balanced school schedule.”

The new growth charts will not be ready until at least the end of 2022, but researchers said the current ones can still be used.

“We are updating the current growth charts, but it doesn’t mean that they are not suitable or not accurate. Ultimately, it’s just a reference tool,” said Dr Thomas Chung Wai-hung of the Department of Health’s family and student health branch.


Category: Hong Kong

Print This Post

Comments are closed.