21 September 2019
Realizing that they have obesity problem on hand, schools have begun to promote healthier lunches and more physical exercise for kids. Photo: RTHK
Realizing that they have obesity problem on hand, schools have begun to promote healthier lunches and more physical exercise for kids. Photo: RTHK

Why our kids are getting fat and what we can do about it

Eight-year old Yi-tong is always hungry and can’t stop eating, leading to an obesity problem at an early age.

“She is getting fatter and fatter each year and I am really scared,” says her father.

“We are worried about her health. It could be bad for her heart,” her mother echoed.

Another mother in Hong Kong also expresses similar concerns about her child.

“Our kid has been bloating up. He seems to get only fatter but not taller,” she says.

Coming back to Yi-tong, she weighs 40 kilograms and her Body Mass Index is 23.5. People are generally considered overweight if the measurement goes above 23.

Yi-tong is hardly alone. The problem has reached such a level that even schools are realizing that they need to take some action.

“When we got a report from the health department that one out of five students are overweight, we decided we have to do something,” a primary school principal told RTHK.

So the school has started encouraging students to do more sports and exercise. It has also stepped up supervision on lunchboxes provided to kids.

Fatty food and deep-fried cuisine are sought to be kept away from the menu.

“The best ratio is for a lunchbox to have three portions of rice, two portions of vegetable and one portion of meat. If the supplier deviates from that, we will provide feedback and seek an adjustment,” a teacher explained.

Meanwhile, parents are being invited to participate in the monitoring process.

Apart from wrong diet, there is another key reason why many kids in Hong Kong are getting fatter — lack of sufficient sleep.

Research shows that kids who do not get enough sleep tend to show a much higher possibility of becoming overweight.

“The risk is three times higher,” says Professor Albert Li of the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Ideally, kids aged between 7 and 13 should get about ten hours of sleep per day. But in Hong Kong, about 30 percent of the kids sleep for only seven hours, according to a study.

Yi-tong, for instance, usually goes to bed between midnight and 1:00 am. She likes to indulge in mobile games for hours after finishing her homework.

The connection of lack of sleep and obesity lies in hormones.

Insufficient sleep leads to a higher level of Ghrelin, also known as the hunger hormone, which increases our appetite for food, especially high calorie food, Li points out.

And it’s a widely recognized fact that unhealthy eating habits and poor lifestyle practices developed during childhood are often carried on into adulthood.

Most parents in Hong Kong are obsessed about the concept of winning at the starting line.

Rather than focus only on academic achievement or getting their kids into the best schools, the parents should ponder whether they are doing enough to make sure that their children get a healthier diet, enough exercise and proper sleep.

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EJ Insight writer