Three weeks in to my six week stint as an English teacher in Hong Kong, I’ve been struck by how unusual it is to see a fat Chinese person. While at home I’m used to an array of body shapes even wider than the average British waistband, in Hong Kong nearly everyone is a perfect weight – both bones and bingo wings are a rare sight.
According to the stats, my eyes haven’t been deceiving me. The Hong Kong Department of Health classifies 36.6 per cent of the city’s population as overweight, while a Public Health England survey earlier this year found 64 per cent of Brits to be overweight. These figures are even more shocking given that they are skewed in the UK’s favour – the Hong Kong Department of Health takes ‘overweight’ to mean a BMI of 23 or above, while their British counterparts only consider those of 25 or over problematic.
When you look at the Cantonese diet, near-universal slimness doesn’t make any sense. People in Hong Kong eat everything dieticians despise. Fatty meat in a sugary sauce is served on a mountain of white rice. Three measly pieces of mushroom sit atop a wok-full of deep-fried noodles. Most cheap restaurants offer a free fizzy drink with every meal. There’s a McDonald’s on every corner, but miles between every salad.
If it’s not the staple diet, neither is it that everyone’s counting calories – Hong Kong-ers don’t seem to be particularly worried about getting fat. Western coffee chains like Starbucks and Pret A Manger don’t display the calorie content of their food in their Hong Kong branches, while they do in the UK. In British branches of Pizza Express, all the healthy-option ‘Leggera’ pizzas come in at under 500 calories; in Hong Kong, they’re all 500-600 calories.