The Department of Health (DH) released the findings of the Population Health Survey (PHS) on November 27. Alarming results showed that about 50% of Hong Kong people aged 15 to 84 are overweight or obese. The survey also found that prevalence of hypercholesterolaemia for people aged 15 to 84 went up to nearly 50%, while the rate for prevalence of one or more of hypertension, diabetes mellitus and hypercholesterolaemia is at almost 60%.

As DH estimates, the high cholesterol demographic has significantly expanded from 1.8 million to 2.9 million over the last 10 years, comparing with the previous PHS conducted in 2003-4. Among persons aged 30 to 74, the mean cardiovascular diseases (CVD) risk over the next 10 years was 10.6%, i.e. among every 1,000 persons aged 30 to 74, 106 persons may suffer from the above cardiovascular event over the next 10 years.

More disturbingly, about half of these non-communicable diseases (NCDs) were only picked up by health examination, rather than reported by respondents during the household questionnaire survey.

Development of non-communicable diseases linked to unhealthy lifestyle

Dr Constance Chan, the Director of Health, pointed out that the development of these NCDs and cardiovascular risk factors is closely related to unhealthy lifestyle practices.

As revealed by the survey, about 86.3% of the population are not meeting the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendation for dietary salt intake, with their salt consumption exceeding the limit of 5 grams per day. Findings also show a high prevalence of inadequate fruit and vegetable intake at 94.4%. Of note, for alcohol drinking, a marked increase in drinking prevalence was noted, from 33.3% in 2003-04 to almost double —61.4% in 2014-15.

Chan said that the survey revealed unhealthy lifestyle practices, such as inadequate intake of fruit and vegetables, a high-salt diet, drinking, smoking and a sedentary lifestyle, are common.

In particular, she expressed concern on the sharp rise in alcohol drinking. While alcohol drinking in social gatherings and celebrations is common, few are aware of the harm that alcohol does to their health. Alcohol use is an important causal factor of more than 200 diseases (including liver diseases, cancer and stroke) and injury conditions. She reminded the public that alcohol was classified as a Group 1 carcinogen (i.e. there is sufficient evidence in humans for the cancer-causing effects of alcohol consumption) by the International Agency for Research on Cancer of the WHO. There is no safe drinking level as far as cancer causation is concerned. The WHO has never recommended alcohol drinking for the sake of improving health.

"As it is evident that alcohol produces more harm than any potential benefits, non-drinkers are advised not to start drinking while drinkers should gradually decrease their drinking to reduce harm. Pregnant women, children and youth and people who are ill or on medicine, as well as those operating machinery and driving, should not drink," Chan said.

Improvements observed in hypertension and smoking prevalence dropped

In comparing the prevalence of common NCDs and behavioural risk factors between the first PHS and the second one, some improvements have been observed in hypertension with the age-standardised rate decreasing from 23.5% to 21.2%.

Survey figures also showed the current smoking prevalence rate had dropped from 16.3% to 14.8%. Yet, Chan said there is no room for complacency and the DH will continue with its efforts in tobacco control. As shared by Chan, the DH is now working on a new Pilot Public-Private Partnership Programme on Smoking Cessation which will be launched later this year to further enhance tobacco control.

The Director of Health, Dr Constance Chan (right), and the Head of the Surveillance and Epidemiology Branch of the Centre for Health Protection of the Department of Health, Dr Regina Ching. Photo credit: GovHK
The Director of Health, Dr Constance Chan (right), and the Head of the Surveillance and Epidemiology Branch of the Centre for Health Protection of the Department of Health, Dr Regina Ching. Photo credit: GovHK

"Successful prevention and control of NCDs relies on collaborative efforts of various stakeholders from different sectors of society. The DH will continue to work with relevant government bureaux and departments and the public health community and to engage the general public in adopting a healthy lifestyle. It is important that healthy choices are made easier, everywhere and for everyone," Chan added.

Conducted by the DH between December 2014 and August 2016, the PHS was the second large-scale territory-wide survey of its type. In order to enhance systems of surveillance, the DH will conduct household-based health behaviour surveys every two years and household-based population health surveys with physical measurements and biochemical testing every six years.

You may view the PHS report here. MIMS

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