More than two-thirds of Hongkongers are unaware obesity is considered a clinical disease, survey says

27-Feb-2019 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:00 AM Print This Post

More than 70 per cent of adults in Hong Kong are unaware obesity has been considered a disease by the world’s health watchdog for almost two decades, a new survey has said.

The survey, conducted by the Hong Kong Association for the Study of Obesity last October, also found 44.2 per cent of 1,008 adults polled did not know obesity was an illness that could lead to diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer.

It highlighted a lack of awareness in Hong Kong of a problem many countries have named as one of the greatest public health challenges of the 21st century.

Dr Francis Chow Chun-chung, president of the association, called on the government to officially class obesity as a disease to help raise awareness.

“Diabetes wasn’t seen as anything important 20 years ago. But because people started to talk about it in the past 20 years, it is now being treated as a serious disease,” Chow said.

“Obesity, likewise, is a disease that has a very big impact on our physical and mental health and future quality of life. It will also have a direct or indirect impact on our labour force, the structure of our society and on our economy.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) in 2000 defined obesity as a “disease in which excess body fat has accumulated to such an extent that health may be adversely affected”.

The most common method used to classify excess weight and obesity in adults is the body mass index (BMI). It is calculated by dividing a person’s weight in kilograms by their height in metres squared.

A person with a BMI reading of 25 or higher is considered overweight, while 30 or higher signals obesity.

In the survey, some 42 per cent chose weight as an indicator for obesity, while only 33.7 per cent correctly chose BMI.

However, among those who knew BMI was used to evaluate obesity, 65 per cent failed to choose the correct definition.

Half of Hongkongers aged 15 or older are overweight or obese, according to a citywide health survey by the government released last year.

The study, conducted between 2014 and 2016, found that 20.1 per cent of the more than 12,000 people polled were considered overweight, while 29.9 per cent were obese.

The government’s study used a lower obesity threshold than the WHO, at a BMI reading of 25. There is no international consensus on what BMI level makes a person overweight or obese.

According to the WHO, the fundamental cause of people being obese and overweight is that they consume more calories than they burn.

Changes in dietary habits and physical activity patterns mean people are eating more energy-dense food high in fat, while being increasingly sedentary at work.

The association’s vice-president Dr Vincent Yeung Tok-fai called obesity the “source of many diseases”, saying it was closely related to fatal illnesses such as cardiovascular diseases and sleep apnoea.

The association said a more comprehensive strategy for using medicine, surgery and changing lifestyle habits to treat obesity was needed.


Category: Hong Kong

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