Health & Environment

Health & Environment

Sugary drinks tax: will it cut obesity?

  • 2016-11-30

Can the WHO's idea of a tax on sugary drinks work in Hong Kong? by Tracy Zhang A group of primary school students were sitting around a table at McDonald's in Kowloon City Plaza, enjoying their meal with sips of cola. "I drink cola every meal because I love it so much," said a plump 12-year-old boy. In Hong Kong, almost all fast food restaurants provide cola and lemonade as their main beverages. Convenient stores and vending machines also display a variety of sugary drinks. The World Health Organization(WHO) released a report on October 11, stating that taxing sugary drinks can efficiently lower the consumption and reduce the rates of obesity, type 2 diabetes and tooth decay. Fiscal policies that raise the retail price of sugary drinks by 20 per cent or more would bring about proportional reductions in consumption of such products, according to the report titled "Fiscal policies for Diet and Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases". Just days before, Hong Kong government was urged to implement WHO's call to tax all sugary drinks in order to curb the rising rate of obesity. A survey from the Department of Health shows more than 46 per cent of people in Hong Kong are in the class of overweight or obese, with one in four primary school children being overweight. The rate is still climbing. According to WHO global estimates, 39 per cent of adults worldwide are overweight and the figure has more than doubled between 1980 to 2014. WHO suggests sugar-sweetened beverages are largely to blame for people getting overweight and catching diseases. The tax policies could be an effective device to tackle the problem. According to WHO global estimates, 39 per cent adults worldwide are overweight and the figure more than doubled from 1980 to 2014. "Overseas and local medical …

Health & Environment

Prevention of food allergies - turn foes to friends early on

  • 2016-11-12

A new remedy for food allergies by Crystal Tai When Kelly Tang Tsz-yu was just two years old, she took a spoonful of shrimp and shortly after that, her skin was covered with an itchy rash. Her mother Iris Tai Lok-man was terrified when she began to have breathing difficulties. Since then, her mother always makes sure that Kelly stays away from seafood, peanuts and other common allergens. Like many parents, she holds on to the belief that her child will be fine as long as she stops eating food that triggers an allergic reaction. But new findings show that adding peanuts and eggs to babies' diets – rather than keeping them away, can cut the rates of allergies. An article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association this month, found that early introduction of allergenic food to infants, can reduce risk. The journal shows evidence that feeding peanuts to babies aged between 4 and 11 months,  can lower their chance of developing a peanut allergy. Further studies suggest that early introduction of other common allergens like eggs and fish,  was linked to fewer amount of allergies later on. The new approach to treating food allergies is in contrast with the research released around a decade ago.  At the time, the American Academy of Pediatrics asked kids to stay away from allergens until they were much older. Researchers concluded that there was a "moderate" certainty that putting food allergies in babies' diets prevents the allergy from developing. Ms June Chan King Chi, Senior Dietitian at the Hong Kong Sanatorium and Hospital said that early introduction of allergens to children has been a heated topic in the UK and the US recently. She said between 2008 to 2015, 1,300 three-month old infants were regularly fed small portions of milk, …

Health & Environment

Healing with rhythm and melody

Music therapy helps children with autism by Daisy Lee In a room filled with playful and catchy melodies, Sam Lawrence sits beside an electric piano, moving along the rhythm played by his music therapist. There are no words but his body movements express the joy he finds. Sam has a chromosome abnormality, which has ose symptoms resembling those of autism spectrum disorder. His journey with music therapy began when his therapist discovered that he reacted positively with music.Once the therapist discovered that he reacted positively to music, his journey with music therapy started. Rona Grecia has been Sam's nursemaid for almost 11 years. After accompanying him in the music therapy sessions for three years, she has seen observed that how music therapy has given Sam a chance to express himself.   Sam has a chromosome abnormality. His Ose symptoms resemble those of autism spectrum disorders. "He used to react slowly to (his) therapist's music or instructions, but now I am impressed to see his improvement in interactions. He can even express what instruments and music he likes. Sam is calm and happy when he is with music," she said. According to the American Music Therapy Association, music therapy designed for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is effective in improving their interpersonal and communication skills. Jockey Club Sarah Roe School offers in-house music therapy to children with special needs. "Children with autism always live in their own world. Music serves like a cue, which can bring their attention back into reality and make them feel connected to the real world," said Joanne Wu, a music therapist at JCSRS. "For example, we always play ‘Hello Song' when a session starts, which serves as a signal and converge (grabs) the children's attention," she said. Ms Wu added that music is a kind of …

Health & Environment

Plant-based Therapy helps students bloom

  • 2016-07-22

Horticultural Therapy can help with student suicides issue in Hong Kong By Susan Gao In a garden filled with colorful flowers and cheerful sounds of chirping birds, six students with dementia and depression are sitting on wheelchairs in front of a round table, touching their newly grown plants while listening to the therapist's instruction. "Only in this one-hour therapy can I forget all the unhappy things," said Wong Pui Shan, who has attended six therapy lessons. This is Horticultural Therapy, a new way of therapeutic treatment defined by American therapists as the engagement of a person in gardening and plant-based activities, facilitated by a trained therapist. "It is more than just gardening. The visual aesthetics of plants can elicit feelings of inner peace and generate positive emotions," said Tam Sau-han, the General Affair Director of Hong Kong Association of Therapeutic Horticulture. "The therapy has become increasingly popular in Hong Kong due to the high social pressure." Up to 23 students have committed suicides in Hong Kong since the start of academic year in September 2015, much more than the past years, according to the Hong Kong Jockey Club Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention. The registered horticultural therapist suggested that students nowadays face considerable stress and are more fragile. "The therapy can help remedy their mental health problems and alleviate their stress and depression," Ms Tam said. Dr. Tong Wang-chi, an Honorary Consultant of Hong Kong Association of Therapeutic Horticulture, said researchers have found the therapy effective in treating developmental disabilities and mental illnesses such as depression and stress-related diseases. "People commit suicides mainly because of the feeling of worthiness", said Dr. Tong, who is also a counseling psychologist of Adventist Hospital. "Plants is a favorable medium of treatment, which can help people regain self-esteem." Ms Tam said the fact …

Health & Environment

Stretched to the limits

A shortage of nurses at public hospitals adds tension to patient care By Richelia Yeung & Tiffany Lui Public hospitals in Hong Kong serve 90 percent of all the patients in the territory, yet employs only 40 percent of doctors according to a report published by the Food and Health Bureau in 2015. Medical staff were pushed to their limits during a recent outbreak of influenza. Miss X, a registered nurse working in the orthopedics department of a public hospital, says medical staff feel like they are ‘fighting a war with no weapons '. "As nurses, we want to provide a good care for the patients," she says, "but the hospital is not giving us enough support, especially when it comes to manpower." The nurse says there are only six nurses per shift taking care of more than 50 patients. Sometimes it is down to four or five nurses if someone falls ill. "We are lucky if the patients are all in stable conditions, otherwise we would be under a lot of psychological pressure if anything happens all of a sudden," she said. The Association of Hong Kong Nursing Staff addressed an open letter to Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying in March. They said  medical staff is overworked. The nurse-to-patient ratio, they said, was 1:12, far exceeding the international standard of 1:6. "No matter which department it is, there are more patients during the influenza season," says the nurse. "When one department is in need, others departments need to give a helping hand. There is a ripple effect." She says Lunar New Year is the only time when they get some relief because it is taboo for Chinese people to go to hospital during the holiday. "Experienced staff quit their jobs in public hospitals and  work at private hospitals because they …

Health & Environment

Organic truth: are you getting what you pay for?

  • 2016-06-24

  by Celia Lai The Organic Standard and Certification System was introduced in Hong Kong 14 years ago. It is supposed to guarantee that organic products meet local standards. Vegetables labelled "organic", for example,  cost $20 to $30 more per catty (604.8 gram) than regular produce. But many consumers remain sceptical. " I heard in the news that not all organic shops are honest. They mix regular veggies with organic ones," said Mr Chan Sze-Chi. Professor Wong Wun-Chung,  executive of Hong Kong Organic Resource Centre (HKORC), admitted that monitoring on the sale of organic vegetables in Hong Kong is inadequate. According to 2015 report by HKORC, wet markets in North, South, Eastern and Tsuen Wan Districts are the black spots for fake organic vegetables. More than 20% of the venders in each market sell vegetables labelled "organic"without certification. HKORC recommends that consumers buy organic produce  with their logo to ensure quality. Hong Kong Organic Resource Centre is the only organization that certifies local organic vegetables. They adopt international standards. Farmers and suppliers who reach the standard are given certificates so that they can use the HKORC logo on their produce. "Our procedure is to certify farm operation. When the organic veggies get into the retail stores ready to be sold, that is another issue," said Professor Wong. "For now, we can check if sellers abuse the certificate through their sales records. If farmers sell 10kg organic vegetables to retail A but our investigator is able to buy 20kg , then we know that the owner of the retail misuses our certificate." Under the present procedure, certified organic vegetables can be sold either through the Vegetable Marketing Organisation (VMO), or by  local farmers themselves. "Before distributing the organic vegetables to chain stores such as PARKnSHOP and Aeon, they have to undergo …

Health & Environment

License to Thrill

  • 2016-06-24

  by Isabella Lo & Ellen He     A boy sustained head injury when playing on an indoor trampoline recently, according to the Consumer Council's latest report. Unlike in the U.K., no license is required in Hong Kong for the operation of amusement park facilities. Trampolines are not a regulated "entertainment" activity under the Places of Public Entertainment Ordinance, according to the The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD). According to the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department (EMSD) that regulates amusement park rides, trampolines are not amusement rides since they are not power-driven. Amusement rides are devices that are power-driven for driving or riding by the public primarily for amusement purposes, such as roller coasters, Ferris wheels and pirate ships, according to the EMSD. The FEHD told the Consumer Council that relevant international sports associations, such as federations for trampolines, have already set standards on the proper use of sports facilities. Lack of licensing requirement is not the only regulatory loophole revealed from the 178 complaints received by the Consumer Council during the past three years. According to the Council, most complaints are about service quality and safety concerns of both indoor and outdoor activities. Some operators may use a "disclaimer" to evade liabilities, misleading consumers to give up their right to redress, said the consumer watchdog. In the case of the trampoline injury, the accompanying domestic helper was asked to sign a Term of Use agreement when she bought the admission ticket for the child. She recalled those terms as purported to exempt the operator from all legal liabilities, according to the council. "The Control of Exemption Clauses Ordinance clearly stated that the court will only enforce the operator's exemption clauses when they are deemed fair and reasonable," said Dr. Chan Wai-hon Felix, a law professor from the …

Health & Environment

Green Tea: A Healthy Drink?

  • 2016-04-02

by Isabella Lo Vienna Lau Cheuk-lam has been drinking ten cups of green tea every week for three years. She believes it keep her fit and invigorated. "I feel re-energized after drinking green tea," said the second year student at Hong Kong Polytechnic University.  "It helps me a lot to concentrate on my studies." Vienna is among many Hong Kong people who drink up 1.42 kilograms of tea every year. This makes the city the 12th biggest tea consumer in the world, according to Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States (FAO). However, recent studies have found drinking too much green tea may be detrimental to the reproductive system. In an article in the December issue of Journal of Functional Foods, researchers from the University of California, Irvine, discovered that a high dose of green tea can have adverse effects on reproductive development in fruit flies. In the study, fruit fly larvae were exposed to different doses of green tea polyphenols (GTP). It was found that larvae exposed to ten milligrams or more of green tea have slower development and are generally smaller in size than the controls. They also produce less offspring. "Experiments on insects like fruit flies are just a start," said Dr. Ko Ka-shun Joshua, pharmacologist at Hong Kong Baptist University. "It is not yet known whether green tea will have significant effects on humans." With various health benefits including delaying ageing, regulating weight, and reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, green tea has become one of the most popular drinks worldwide. The harvest of green tea has increased by 60 per cent in volume over the last decade, according to the Tea Association of USA. However, Dr. Ko suggested not to drink too much green tea despite its high antioxidant content. "A well-known antioxidant, vitamin …

Health & Environment

Antibiotics Tainted Food: Safe to Eat?

  • 2016-02-19

by Connie Fong & Cecilia Wong A ntibiotics were once seen as the miracle drug that saved lives. But today an expert calls for an antibiotics free period before animals are slaughtered due to years of abuse. "A withholding period during which livestock are not fed any antibiotics for 10-14 days before they go through food processing should be implemented," said Professor P. Reichel, Dean and Chair Professor of School of Veterinary Medicine, City University of Hong Kong. The World Health Organization, which recently organized the World Antibiotics Resistance Awareness Week, warned of a looming post-antibiotic era in which common infections and minor injuries may once again kill. "The concern of a post-antibiotic era is that we will eventually run out of effective antibiotics to treat diseases," said Prof Reichel. Medical researchers suggest that the Hong Kong government should ensure that antibiotics in food production are used in "the most effective and responsible manner". He explained that excessive use of antibiotics in animal feed have led to humans developing resistance to the drugs. "Antibiotic-resistant bacteria have been increasing dramatically and their resistant genes are transferred to other bacteria," said Dr Albert Yu, Chairman of the Hong Kong Biotechnology Organization. "The media (of spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria) can be anything. We cannot get rid of the infection and we will run out of drugs," Dr Yu said. Around half of the antibiotics produced globally are used in agriculture, most of it used to promote growth and prevent illnesses rather than to treat diseases, according to the concern group Consumers International. Joining hands with the WHO, the Hong Kong Consumer Council has called on nine restaurants chains, including McDonald's, KFC and Subway, to disclose whether they use meat from animals fed on growth-promoting antibiotics. McDonald's Hong Kong responded that it has implemented the "McDonald's Global Policy on Antibiotic Use in Food Animals" since 2003 to ensure the use of antibiotics is limited to "medical purposes only". However, it did not not mention the amount or the frequency of antibiotics use in its food production process. Ms Yau Wai-Shan, a regular customer of …

Society & Politics

The Michelin Kiss of Death?

  • 2016-02-19

  by Tiffany Lui Not all Michelin-awarded restaurants in Hong Kong this year are rejoicing in the hope that the accolade might bring business. Some face the pressure of rising rent which may lead to closure. This phenomenon was coined by the media as the "Michelin's Kiss of Death". The Michelin Guide has been an index for excellent restaurants and food stalls since the 1900s. The 2016 edition of the Hong Kong and Macau Michelin Guide awarded 58 local restaurants and recommended 23 roadside food stalls. Since then at least two of those food stalls have been told by their landlords that their rents would go up immediately. Among them, Chiu Wing-yip, the owner of Kai Kai Dessert. "After we got the stars, the landlord increased our rent in the new contract by 120 per cent. That means we need to sell 5000 more bowls of sweet soups to cover the cost and I don't think we can make it!" Mr Chiu said. He said that the rising rent is definitely linked to Michelin but he is still happy to get the compliment. "We are very grateful to see people enjoying our food and Michelin has put a halo around our products." Mr Fu, a customer, goes to Kai Kai Dessert every week. He was shocked when he learned that the rent shot up. "I guess an increase of 15 or 20 per cent would be acceptable. But isn't 120 per cent a bit too much? No shop can afford this!" He is also concerned about the diminishing choice of local small food stalls. "I really don't know what to eat when all the shops near my home are McDonald's, Café De Coral and Maxims. I miss the fish balls and Cha Chaan Teng we used to have in Hong …