The general health of toddlers in the SAR has room for improvement, according to a survey conducted by the Hong Kong Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK). At a news conference today to announce the results, a researcher from CUHK as well as a leading Hong Kong paediatrician and a registered dietician all agreed that, based on the survey, many Hong Kong children under three years old are deficient in areas such as mental and physical development, respiratory and gastrointestinal health, and immune system development. Diet was named a critical tool for improving toddler health.
Conducted with over 1,103 families in Hong Kong, "A Survey on Toddler Health in Hong Kong" explored the most common health issues affecting youngsters under the age of three. Topics include common but preventable respiratory and gastrointestinal distress; developmental benchmarks and the importance of nutrition in helping meet them; eating habits; and chronic health problems.
The survey revealed a number of surprising results:
-- Nearly 90% (88.6%) of toddlers have visited the doctor for health
issues over the past six months -- with- some visiting as many as 20
-- 50% of toddlers see doctors because of respiratory illness, such as
cold, flu and runny nose
-- 26.5% of toddlers frequently (7.0%) or sometimes (19.5%) have bowel
-- 10.7% of toddlers frequently (0.8%) or sometimes (9.9%) have diarrhea
-- 26.5% of toddlers frequently (10.1%) or sometimes (16.4%) have eczema
-- On average, Hong Kong toddlers begin to walk at 12.3 months
Among toddlers who cannot speak in complete sentences now, 5.9% are older than 24 months, while others were not walking at 12 months, as are typically the benchmarks. Nearly 40% (39%) of toddlers still need to be fed at the age of 18 months.
Mr Shum Kwok-cheung, Chinese University of Hong Kong, introduced the study and its methodology along with key data learned. Dr. R.W. Chiu, a local paediatrician, and Ms. Ingrid Kan, Accredited Dietician at St Teresa's Hospital, then offered their interpretations and recommendations based on the findings. Also on the panel was Mr. Heiko Schipper, Head of Milks Business Unit, Nestle Greater China Region, who offered insights into how the company has been working on advances in children's formula to help counter common ailments.
Speaking about how the survey was conducted, Mr Shum said, "We contacted 1,103 parents in Hong Kong and asked them a series of questions regarding toddler health, including the frequency of various symptoms of physical distress, number of times consulting medical professionals in relation to such symptoms, and basic information about diet and exercise."
Dr. Chiu said, "What is clear is that Hong Kong toddlers are not as healthy as they could be. The frequency of visiting doctors is quite surprising. Also, Hong Kong toddlers' ability to act independently and take care of themselves is weaker. Parents often have too little time due to work- related pressures, and their care for children therefore manifests in paying too much attention to clean environments and ensuring children are fed rather than looking at their children's diet and development from a holistic point of view."
Ms. Kan noted that 20% of parents said their children were fussy eaters. Among children age three and younger, the most popular foods were fruit and milk.
"Diet is one of the most overlooked factors in bolstering toddler health and immunity and preventing illness," said Ms. Kan. "We get out of our bodies what we put into them, so foods and supplements that contain balanced levels of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients will go a long way toward ensuring a toddler's health and development. However, when making dietary decisions there is a need to understand the importance of various ingredients. Parents tend to put a lot of stock in supplements such as DHA for brain development, but they overlook equally if not more important ingredients such as probiotics, which are crucial for regulating digestive health and boosting immunity.
"In addition, parents need to look at where ingredients come from. Cleaner, purer natural environments will produce ingredients such as milk that are more nourishing and beneficial for humans. For example, according to the recent 2008 Environmental Performance Index (EPI) conducted by Yale University, Switzerland ranks #1 out of 149 countries based on environmental health, air pollution, water resources, biodiversity and habitat, productive natural resources, and climate change, while countries typically perceived as having the best natural environments, such as New Zealand and Japan, ranked #7 and #21 respectively. This demonstrates the amount of information parents need to take into account when making decisions regarding their children's diets."
Mr. Schipper stated that Nestle has developed a high-quality probiotic, Bifidus BL, which has been shown to stimulate immune response, reduce inflammatory reactions in children suffering from allergies, provide healthy gastrointestinal environment and help children have more desirable soft bowel movements. The clinical studies on Bifidus BL were developed by a team of 300 nutritionists and scientists at the Nestle Research Center in Lausanne, Switzerland, one of the world's leading research centers in the areas of food, nutrition and life sciences, using local natural ingredients. Probiotic Bifidus BL will be included in the company's new Swiss-made growing up milk EXCEL.
"We encourage Hong Kong parents to learn more about the changes that toddlers will undergo from the age of 1 to 3, and pay more attention to their development needs," Mr. Schipper said. "Clinical trials show that Nestle's new Probiotics Bifidus BL enhances levels of Immunoglobulin A (IgA), which is crucial for boosting toddlers' immunity and improving their gastrointestinal environment as well as bowel habits. Nestle's EXCEL is the first age 1-3 toddler milk that utilizes this new technology. We will continue to invest heavily in research and development in order to improve the health of toddlers."
Stewart Chen / Isaac Chan
Tel: +852-2501-7986 / +852-2501-7936