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An interdisciplinary research team led by Prof. Wong Heung-sang (2nd right), Chairman and Professor, Department of Sports Science and Physical Education, handed out the first report card last October on the physical activity of Hong Kong’s children and youths. 38 countries including the US, Japan, Finland and Kenya participated in the project pioneered in Canada. The research teams graded the local children and youths’ level of physical activity in the last 10 years according to nine core indicators in the card.
Many studies have found that a sedentary lifestyle could increase the risk of developing cardiometabolic diseases. Children and youths are suggested to participate in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity for at least an hour a day. Hong Kong scores D in ‘Overall Physical Activity Levels’, meaning that less than half of the children and youths could meet this international benchmark. Although Hong Kong’s score is about the global average, Professor Wong is still deeply concerned.
‘Families, schools, local communities and government measures have significant influence on children and youths’ level of physical activity. Hong Kong performs the worst (D) in “Family Support”, one of the nine indicators. Results show that less than 30% of Hong Kong parents engage in physical activities with their children at least once a week, which falls far behind many Western countries,’ said Professor Wong. While the Netherlands tops the chart (B) in terms of ‘Family Support’, Hong Kong lags behind when compared to countries such as Mainland China, Thailand (B) and the United Arab Emirates (C-). ‘The main reason stems from the busy schedules of working parents, which prevent them from finding time to do anything together with their children.’
The research team suggests parents to encourage their children to participate in more physical activities and less in sedentary ones. According to the ‘Report of Advisory Group on Health Effects of Use of Internet and Electronic Screen Products’, published by the Department of Health of the HKSAR government in 2014, one fifth of the secondary and primary school students interviewed spent more than three hours on the Internet each day. 37% of them frequently or occasionally gave up outdoor activities due to the use of Internet or electronic screen products. Professor Wong stressed that parents should set an example of walking more and exercising more so as to induce their children to live a more active life.
Hong Kong scores D in ‘School–Physical Exercise (PE), Physical-Activities-Related Policy, and Programmes’, same as Thailand but behind Mainland China (B+), Japan, and Malaysia (B). Professor Wong explained, ‘Many schools would slash PE lessons in senior forms to give students more time to prepare for their public examinations. This is not a preferable practice; the school’s management should emphasize the importance of PE classes so that students can grow in knowledge as well as mental and physical well-being. I would suggest PE teachers to incorporate more aerobic exercises in their lessons. They could also cultivate their students’ interest in sports by making the lessons more interesting.’
On the other hand, Hong Kong outperforms many Asian or even Western countries in both ‘Active Transportation’ (B) and ‘Community and the Built Environment’ (B). The Report shows that more than 60% of the children and youths in Hong Kong travelled to school on foot or by bicycle at least once a week. Professor Wong explained, ‘Hong Kong has a well-connected transportation system, with MTR stations or other means of public transport available in many residential areas. The city also has a relatively low crime rate and parents find the local community safe enough for children to travel to school on foot.’
The low level of physical activity among children and youth is not a problem that could be easily or quickly tackled. It requires cooperative efforts from different parties in society to address it. Professor Wong and his research team hope that the Report could arouse public awareness, connect different parties in promoting the benefits of adopting an active lifestyle to the next generations, and cause the government to support more physical-activities-related policies and investments. All these actions would facilitate Hong Kong in becoming a more energetic and dynamic city.
This research project was supported by the University’s Knowledge Transfer Project Fund. Its core members include Prof. Wong Chi-sang (2nd left) of The Jockey Club School of Public Health and Primary Care, Prof. Sit Hui-ping (1st right) and Prof. Sum Kim-wai (1st left) of the Department of Sports Science and Physical Education.
This article was originally published in No. 494, Newsletter in Mar 2017.