Matthew Cheung encourages Hong Kong people to have healthy eating habits. Photo:
Matthew Cheung encourages Hong Kong people to have healthy eating habits. Photo:

Hong Kong people may be getting wealthier, but it is not making them any healthier. In fact, Matthew Cheung Kin-chung has warned that more than 50% of annual deaths in the city can be attributed to unhealthy lifestyles and poor eating habits.

Writing in his Sunday blog, the Chief Secretary said almost half of the population had high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol before the age of 40, which could cause cancer and heart disease. In 2016, 55% of all deaths resulted from such preventable illnesses.

The culprits? Work pressures, junk food and a lack of exercise. Cheung admitted he had a small “pot belly” himself, but said he was doing well compared with other leaders like China’s President Xi Jinping, United States President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un.

It is not the first time the health issue has been raised. In 2015, AIA Group, the largest life insurer in Asia, said that Hong Kong people generally looked 5.7 years older than their actual ages, largely because they were eating badly.

AIA said 96% of respondents were not consuming the recommended daily minimum intake of five servings of fruit and vegetables; most were eating just 1.9 servings. The insurer quoted a Hospital Authority survey that had found 27% of women were centrally obese, carrying 32 inches of waist, while 13% of men had over 36 inches of waist.

According to the 3-4-50 theory developed by the Oxford Health Alliance, the three unhealthy behaviors — poor eating habits, lack of physical exercise and smoking — can result in four chronic diseases (cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular and lung disease) that cause 50% of deaths worldwide.

It doesn’t appear that the message has sunk in during the past three years. As people become richer from the surging property and stock markets, they have also been piling on the calories, presumably because earning more money also induces them to eat more.

The government has long been advocating lower consumption of sugar, fat and salt in meals, and even appointed Executive Council member Bernard Charnwut Chan (now the Exco Convenor) to head a committee on the issue three years ago.

Chan, who suffered in his youth from takayasu arteritis, a vasculitis disease that causes arterial hypertension, has got by for years without eating a lot of sugar and salt. Instead, he likes chili powder, which may not suit everyone — especially those with stomach problems.

With government appeals seemingly falling on death ears, Cheung believes it is time for individuals to take the initiative themselves.