Hong Kong Ranked #1 in Life Expectancy but Health Quality is Questioned

Denise Tam, Holistic Nutritionist

Hong Kong is now ranked #1 in the longest life expectancy in the world at 85.03, ahead of Japan, at 84.79. Though life expectancy is important and something we can celebrate, it’s not the full, and in my opinion true picture of the health of our population.

As a holistic nutritionist, and a cancer survivor that has had to deal with the side effects from 16 rounds of chemotherapy, I prefer to speak about health span rather than life span.

Chemo prolonged my time here on earth in order to pursue true health and healing, but by no means did it restore me to health. Health was gained through a lot of hard work, perseverance and non-negotiables in my lifestyle changes that now make up my lifestyle. 

The leading cause of death worldwide is cardiovascular disease, but in Hong Kong, our leading cause of death¹ is cancer, followed by pneumonia and then heart disease. Cancer takes a significant lead contributing to 31.9% of deaths in males and 28.8% in females, compared with heart disease at 12.6% and 12.4% for males and females respectively.

According to the Hospital Authority, the top three cancers that contribute to mortality are lung (53.7%), colon (29%) and liver (20.4%) across both sexes.

Lung and colon cancer were the two that had the most incidences and mortalities. What’s interesting is that lung cancer overtook colon cancer which used to be the most common of cancers in 2019. There are too many variables to explain this but I believe that the higher incidences of lung cancer in the past few years is partly due to Hong Kong’s past use of asbestos which is now coming back to haunt us.

90% of lung cancers are known to be caused by smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke. However in Hong Kong our smoking population is considered low at around 10%. But lung cancer can be attributed to other factors like exposure to radiation and asbestos. My guess is that the peak in the consumption of asbestos in Hong Kong in the early 1980’s and late 1990’s is now showing its effects on that population’s health. 

As we all know, cancer isn’t formed overnight but likely from years of neglecting our health

Thankfully asbestos is now banned, but it does stay in our environment and bodies for a long time, so if you think you’ve been exposed, it would be wise to try to do a deep detox and chelation of these asbestos fibre with your health care provider.

Colon cancer on the other hand seems to be more of a lifestyle and diet issue that we have more control over. 

Colon cancer is often attributed to an over consumption of red meat like beef and pork. And Hong Kong sits in third place for most consumption of beef and pork per capita.² ³ This is a HUGE tell sign of one of the driving causes of colon cancer in Hong Kong. 

The two countries that come before Hong Kong in beef consumption are Uruguay and Argentina, both of which are producers of beef and naturally have this in their ancestry diet. For pork consumption the two countries preceding Hong Kong are Denmark and Spain, again two of the largest producers and exporters of pork. Then sits Hong Kong at third place where we import all of our beef and much of our pork (from China). Hong Kong was a fishing village and our ancestors likely ate more seafood than red meat, but it seems that times have changed our diet yet our genes and body cannot keep up with this.

A study published in Nature’s Communications, named “The African Diet Swap” has shown that a high carbohydrate, high fibre diet like that of rural Aricans can substantially reduce colon cancer risk. The study also demonstrated that our microbiome (bacteria living in your gut) plays an important role in this anti-cancer effect. This diet replaces red meat with fish and legumes and calls for increased calcium, magnesium, potassium, and fiber. Fiber intake increased from an average of 14g to 55g per day and fat was reduced from 35% to 16% of total calories. What was remarkable is that just after two weeks on this high carb, high fiber plant based African diet the participants had significantly less colon inflammation and a drop in colon cancer risk.

Professor Stephen O’Keefe at the University of Pittsburgh, who directed the study, said,⁴
“Our study suggests that westernization of the diet induces changes in biomarkers of colon cancer risk in the colonic mucosa within two weeks. Perhaps even more importantly, a change in diet from a westernized composition to a ‘traditional African’ high-fiber low-fat diet reduced these biomarkers of cancer risk within two weeks, indicating that it is likely never too late to change your diet to change your risk of colon cancer.

The link of fibre to our gut microbiome and reduction of colon cancer risk is important to highlight. In the American group, the researchers found that the African diet led to a 250% increase in the production of butyrate, a byproduct of fiber metabolism that has important anti-cancer effects. 

The Importance of Fibre

1. Supports Digestions
A high starch and fibre diet is more easily digested than meat, dairy and processed flour. This is important as we want our food to move through our digestive tract quickly. If it stays for too long, it can ferment in our bodies and create toxic sludge.

2. Can help absorb and remove toxins
Fibre is also really important to help absorb toxins secreted by our liver and carry them out. If your liver is doing a good job at breaking down toxins but you're not able to remove them from your body it’s like cleaning your bathtub and keeping the drain plugged, toxins will just be swimming around our bodies which can actually be very dangerous.

3. Supports a healthy microbiome
Prebiotics or certain fibres can help feed our healthy bacteria in our gut microbiome. We now all have an understanding of how important our microbiome is to our entire wellbeing. Taking probiotic rich foods like sauerkraut and other fermented foods, but we also need to remember to feed our healthy bacteria with fibre rich foods like onions, artichoke and garlic which are rich in prebiotics. 

Signs you're not getting enough fibre
- constipation
- weight gain
- blood sugar fluctuations
- high cholesterol
- inflammation

How to include more fibre into your diet 

  1. Eat ancient grains instead of just whole grains
    Even wholewheat bread or pasta is processed and milled down to flour losing some important fibres. I tend to eat the grain itself like wild rice or sprouted quinoa. Quinoa is also free from gluten which is easier on the gut.

    2. Add fibre into your baked goods or smoothie
    Chia and flaxseeds are very high in fibre and add a nice texture to baked goods and smoothies. Flaxseeds, milled, can even be an egg replacement. I like to add chia seeds into my smoothie to make it thick and more filling. If you want the best of both, Organic Traditions has a sprouted chia and flaxseed powder that’s been milled for easy use.

    3. Eat 5 servings of vegetables
    We hear this all the time, but reality is that the majority of us are not eating 5 servings of vegetables a day. The pieces of veggies in your fried rice don’t count. Nor do your side of french fries or the lettuce and tomato in your burger. If you’re having trouble getting enough vegetables into your diet. You can opt for a greens powder like Beyond Greens which contains 10 organic green superfoods like broccoli, alfalfa, kale and others. One 8g serving is equivalent to 2 servings of vegetables. 
  • Every 8 g serving of Beyond Greens contains 2 servings of vegetables
  • Provides 2 g (25%) of protein and 3 g (38%) of fibre per serving
  • Provides both kinds of fibre - soluble and insoluble required for optimum digestive health
  • Fermented to promote easier digestion and maximum absorption of nutrients


1. https://www.healthyhk.gov.hk/phisweb/en/chart_detail/22/

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