Header image: Cooking video by Love 21
Life expectancy in Hong Kong is still one of the highest in the world. Those born here can expect to live to an average of 85 years old (82 if you’re male, 88 if you’re female). Overall life expectancy in Japan is 84 years old, while Singapore is 83. Look up your country of choice here.
Contrast those with the life expectancies of Nigeria (55) and Somalia (57). There are obvious differences between Hong Kong and these countries that go a long way to explaining this. But there is a group living right here in Hong Kong who have observed life expectancies of only 35 to 40 years. Those born with Down’s syndrome in Hong Kong are not expected to live more than four decades. Often they can be obese, inactive and lacking appropriate nutritional knowledge. But with the help of a local charity this is all changing.
HK charity Love 21 Foundation runs free fitness, nutrition and community classes for members and their families. The 200+ members are from all over Hong Kong and either have Down’s syndrome or are autistic.
We recently met with Love 21’s COO, Carmel Armstrong, and our talk was head-spinning; the results over just the past 10 months are inspiring. These results come from 58 Love 21 members who volunteered for the nutrition programme and had already been attending the free fitness classes.
Those in the obese, overweight and normal categories all reduced their body mass index (BMI) via the nutrition programme
The three pillars of health: fitness, community and nutrition
Love 21 is a four-year-old charity that started with weekly football and yoga classes. Today, they host over 300 free sport and activity lessons per month for their members. They even have a dragon boat team!
By encouraging their members to become more active, they also become more social, practising interacting with others and following instructions. The community began to grow naturally, which led to support and education for the parents, siblings and caretakers as well as the members.
Raising a child with an intellectual disability is not easy. We have seen very clearly how by providing extra support and care for the parents, guardians and other family members has directly benefitted our individual members. We aim to provide a 360-degree holistic support programme for all families. – Carmel Armstrong, Love 21 COO
However, whilst members were exercising and learning about fitness, it became obvious that proper nutrition was not always a high priority and poor eating choices undid a lot of progress.
Funded by the Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust, Jockey Club Love Healthy Life Sport and Nutrition Programme began at Love 21 late last year with the help of registered dietician Sally Poon and nutritionist Tsau Jin. The pair give bespoke advice to the 58 members and their families who volunteered to be part of this pilot programme – like the last piece of a puzzle, which is now resulting in meaningful change.
The Jockey Club Love Healthy Life Sport and Nutrition Programme in action
What can nutrition do?
The nutrition programme has only been running for 10 months, but already 12 out of the 58 participants are no longer in the obese category, and nearly everyone has seen significant improvement. Those in the underweight category actually increased their average BMI, and there are now no participants with stage II hypertension reported for the first time in over seven months.
- 21% reduction in the “obese“ BMI category
- “Underweight” category increased overall average BMI
- No stage II hypertension
Even those who are already fit can benefit. Take Amy, who has always been an athlete, even before joining the programme at Love 21. She is a great swimmer and represented Hong Kong at the Down Syndrome World Swimming Championships 2018, winning gold for the 50m backstroke and silver for the 100m breaststroke. She is an avid attendee of the nutrition and exercise classes.
And it’s not only about improving health metrics. Love 21 member Coco used to suffer from skin and digestive issues, but thanks to the nutritional programme, she has seen incredible improvements and is loving her new, healthy lifestyle. And if you ask her for her number-one piece of advice?
Drink lots and lots of water! – Coco
Coco is right; something as simple as drinking plenty of water can make a tremendous difference, especially when replacing less healthy choices.
Coco makes yaki udon at a Love 21 cooking class
Healthy choices and sharing know-how are the focus of the nutrition programme. Cooking classes are regularly held for Love 21 members and their families in an industrial kitchen, and participants are sent home with ingredients in order to make the dishes again at home. This is made possible by donations, especially by those who commit to donating a small amount on a regular basis.
Longevity and happiness for everyone
The success of Love 21’s nutritional programme as showcased by their members is a lesson to all of us. Too often we balance our own equation of health by cancelling a big night out or by following one up with a hangover hike.
The nutritional programme will continue, and we will follow Love 21’s progress with interest. All of this is possible thanks to the donations of a generous HK community, and Love 21 and their members are so grateful. Because the laughter of their members is infectious, their love is abundant, and in the end, we all have #somuchability – let’s not waste it.
Consider signing up to be supporter of Love 21, with regular donations of any size welcomed (a $30 weekly donation supplies one family per month with nutritious, organic vegetables).
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