Macau boys fatter than girls

For 10 years, a group of 13 researchers (seven of them linked to the University of Macau) measured the Body Mass Index of 10,500 children from 10 local schools. The results confirm the worst fears and should be read carefully by Alexis Tam.

A study of 10,846 students in Macau aged between 5 and 11 years (6,970 males, 64.3 per cent, and 3,875 females, 35.7 per cent) identified male students as having significantly higher Body Mass Index (BMI) compared with their female counterparts.  

BMI is a method “widely adopted as a popular measuring tool in observing the rate of obesity, lifestyle development, health habits in people with an obesity problem and active living over the last thirty years due to its easy and inexpensive nature,” according to the authors. BMI is further categorised in one of four groups; namely, Underweight, Standard Weight, Overweight and Obese, according to the norms and indicators used in Taiwan from 2008 to 2011, explain the scholar’s team. 

The research was developed over a decade, with fieldwork conducted between 2008 and 2014 (two phases, 2008-2013 and 2009-2014) involving 10 schools of the MSAR and reaching several conclusions. 

Male students aged 6 to 11 years (2008 to 2013) posted significantly higher BMI levels than their female counterparts of the same age. In the second phase (2009–2014) of the study, students’ heights indicated that there was not much difference between the two gender groups. At age 7, the boys were slightly taller than the girls, while the girls were slightly taller than the boys at age 10.  

The results of the two phases (2008 to 2014 and 2009 to 2014) revealed that when students’ heights were observed there was not much difference within the same gender group (male and male) but if there was an increase of weight, a difference was observed, states the paper entitled Body Mass Index (BMI) Assessment among Macau Students: age group differences and weight management strategies, published in Anthropological Review magazine. 

The team of 13 researchers, led by Walter King Yan Ho (from the University of Macau, to which six other researchers are attached), also concluded that as the weight and height indicated a different pattern, male students in the first phase (2008–2013) of the study showed a higher BMI level than the female students across all age groups, indicating that 24.2 per cent (overweight 12.1 per cent + obese 12.1 per cent) of students in the male sample were categorised as either overweight or obese compared to 17.1 per cent (overweight 10.4 per cent + obese 6.7 per cent) of students in the female sample. The overall rate showed that 20.7 per cent (overweight 22.2 per cent + obese 18.8 per cent) of students over the six-year period of observation were either overweight or obese.  

In the second phase (2009–2014) of the study, a higher BMI level was found among the male students than the female students across all age groups. Additionally, the findings showed that 23.8 per cent (overweight 12.4 per cent + obese 11.4 per cent) of students in the male sample were categorised as either overweight or obese compared to 19.1 per cent (overweight 11.1 per cent + obese 8.0 per cent) of students in the female sample. The overall rate showed that 41 per cent (overweight 23.4 per cent + obese 19.4 per cent) of students were either overweight or obese. 

“From the analyses, we can predict that overweight and obesity will continue to increase over time,” states the team led by Walter King Ho, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Education, University of Macau. “Participation in a regular physical activity programme is highly recommended by the World Health Organization to maintain health and fitness. However, the present study has generated some information that has value as a reference and can be used as a foundation for policy development in Macau and other Asian countries. Changing the behaviour of individuals as well as diet and exercise patterns are pressing issues that have been on researchers’ agendas worldwide.” 

In the list of recommendations that the researchers leave in the final part of their paper is also the “attention especially required when students reach the ages of 9 to 10 years because children can easily develop weight and obesity problems at this time. Raising levels of activity and participation in sports will not only reduce economic costs but can also result in a range of social and community benefits, including reduced anti-social behaviour, improved educational attainment and the establishment of community cohesion.” 

“Therefore,” states the team led by Professor Ho, “it is highly recommended that BMI-for-age should be used to routinely screen for overweight in adolescents and other age group populations. In addition to this recommendation, special attention must be given to male students’ activity levels in physical education and sport activities,” given the fact that “the Macau population has witnessed significant lifestyle changes during the last three decades. Subsequently, physical inactivity, sedentary lifestyle, and an ever-increasing rate of obesity have become prevalent in Macau.”