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Tuesday, 5 February, 2002, 12:54 GMT
Chatting: Is it bad for your health?
Hong Kong residents are more likely to catch the flu because they talk too much and at excessive noise levels, a university professor has claimed.

Professor Thomas Chan at Hong Kong's Chinese University, who has written a recent study on the economic impact of the flu, found that 60% of Hong Kong residents had caught the virus at least once in the past year.

Residents of the region are renowned for their love of chatting, with the highest penetration of mobile phones on the planet.

Is Hong Kong the chatterbox capital of the world? Do you know of other places where people can't help letting everybody know what's on their mind? Would the world be a healthier place if we all spoke with a little less gusto?


This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

I always wondered why I haven't had a cold since leaving Wales, Lol
Ceri, Australia (Welsh expat)


I'd like to see the same study done on Italian-Americans

Jennifer Ethington, USA
I'd like to see the same study done on Italian-Americans. Better yet, Brooklynite Italian-Americans.
Jennifer Ethington, USA

Chatting on the mobile phone is not a good idea to decrease your stress. You could have a headache after long chatting on the mobile. But chatting with your good friends could get rid of your stress or burden.
Jeongnam Choi, S-Korea

Doubtless, we Hong Kongers do love chatting, that's why mobile phone is so popular in the territory. Yet, I don't quite agree the 'flu' problem is correlated with too much chatting or our 'spitting' habit as basically, most Hong Kongers do not spit on streets. It is the problem of some uneducated minority in our society only. I guess the high chance of getting the illness has much more to do with our over-population density.
Joyce, Hong Kong

In my experience, people from Hong Kong certainly can make a noise. I live in a boarding house with 30 of them, and it is a riot. I think though, it is just part of the language and culture; it is quite expressive and uses all these noises. Anyway, I think these flu-chatter people would catch the flu regardless of how much and how loudly they chattered. Maybe its just a case of some people wanting a little peace and quiet!
Emma, UK

Communicating verbally is indeed a gift from above. For those who are comfortable with the flu why not let them continue to talk. Rather have flu than to have silence all around.
Sneha Koshy, Botswana


Shouting is almost never desireable!

Rehana Agha, USA
Are we talking about chatting or shouting. There is an obvious difference. Whispering is desireable; chatting may be good; shouting is almost never desireable!
Rehana Agha, USA

Does this also apply to internet chatrooms?
John McVey, Scotland

I wanted to know if this also relates to singing. If you sing a lot, say professionally in a restuarant, are you more likely to get the flu. Or are you better off if your vocal chords are stronger as a result of singing?
Joan, USA and Australia

I can see how chatting and flu are connected. An open mouth must be very inviting for an air-borne virus! Recently I've been so paranoid about catching colds and flu, that I conciously stop breathing when someone coughs or sneezes.
Neil Ridulfa, UK


Maybe in their previous lives they are dumb

Simon Tay, Singapore
Being Chinese myself, I must say the Chinese race is indeed "a noisy race". They make noises at all occasions - happy or sad it doesn't matter. At the Chinese funeral wake they chant the prayer with gongs and cymbals. When a Chinese baby is born, they let off fire-crackers. At Chinese wedding, rowdy toast of 'yam seng' or bottom-up. If I asked my dead mother her reply would be: "Maybe in their previous lives they are dumb". A word of advice - NEVER SLEEP WITH YOUR MOUTH OPEN. You won't know what may get in? Bye.
Simon Tay, SINGAPORE

I reckon travelling on the London Underground in its current state is a lot unhealthier.
Hazel, UK

Come on. If the "Big Dude Up There" didn't want us to talk, he wouldn't have given us vocal cords, right??
Johanna, Sweden!!!!!

Ah!!! Interesting topic, yes, I would agree, Chinese and Asians have the habit of takling loudly. Hong Kong is a very busy town, it is necessay to communicate in the ways it is done now...thats Hong Kong.
Samdup, Oregon, USA


Imagine a city like Hong Kong silent

Nekabari, Nigeria
Now this is an interesting one. Chatting? Talking? Flu? But if you think about it it really doesen't seem crazy. But i don't think it is likely to be the cause of the epidemic other wise I would have got it. Perhaps it is rapid population growth and movement. It seems as if he is trying to tell people in Hong Kong to SHUT UP. Imagine a city like Hong Kong silent.
Nekabari age 10, Port Harcourt,Nigeria

Not surprised that HK has such a high rate of flu. It is one of the most densely-populated places on the planet. The statistics need to be compared with someplace such as Iceland, which also has nearly 100% mobile phone ownership/usage, but with a much lower population density. Similarly, other comparisons matching HK but without mobile usage would be helpful.
Arri London, EU/US


All Hong Kongers talk about is money and food

Ricardo Cabeza, Malaysia
Hong Kongers do chatter a lot. I remarked to an Englishman there that I was interested in learning Cantonese. He spoke the language and commented that it wasn't worth the bother. "All they ever talk about is money and food."
Ricardo Cabeza, Malaysia

Chatter? Hong Kongers shout at 120 decibels. All the time.
Alban Furness, Hong Kong

Good grief! First mobile phones are bad for your health and now chatting is too? No wonder advanced alien cultures are telepathic...
Ed Vista, UK

Having lived for three years in Hong Kong, I think the terrible pollution levels in the city areas, overcrowded streets and very cold air conditioning when you walk off the streets at 35C with 95% humidity have more to do with the flu than chatting and chinwagging!
Andrew Vigar, Austria

Well, we do talk a lot, and we do talk loudly. But if you don't speak loud enough, others can't hear you. This is especially true when you are staying in Chinese restaurants to "yum cha" or walking in streets. But I think the air pollution also makes us more likely to catch the flu. It's so difficult to take a fresh breath here in Hong Kong.
Ho-ying Cheng, Hong Kong


If God had meant us not to talk he wouldn't have given us vocal chords

Simon Cameron, UK
Is this theory scientifically proven? Sounds like a parody on the latest pseudoscience. From my own experience I have found that the less mucous forming foods I eat such as meat and dairy foods, the less likely I am to succumb to the flu even if everyone around me has gone down with it. As for chatting, if God had meant us not to talk he wouldn't have given us vocal chords.
Simon Cameron, UK

"Speech was given to man to disguise his thoughts." French politician Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord: 1754 - 1838
BJ Sheppard, Taiwan

I am working with many HK collegues everyday. They always talk a lot and very loud in the office. To my surprise, male HK collegues are more gossiping, nosy and interested in others' personal lives than woman (at least in my office. ) 90 percent of them got cold, sore throat in the past year.
Zoe Sun, P.R.CHINA

It is so horrible for me to chat, that I stopped chatting entirely
Khaaled Hamza, United Kingdom

The density of population in Hong Kong certainly has a profound effect on virus transmission. This is exacerbated by the local habit of vociferous chatting, spitting and coughing openly in the streets as is my recent experience of this rather unhygenic corner of the world
Tom, USA

I agree with Tom from the USA. HK residents are their own worse enemy due to their habit of spitting in the streets. It's also noticeable in other countries in the area, particularly China and Myanmar. The noise from the daily dawn chorus of hacking means that one doesn't need an alarm clock in this region, but it does mean that viruses are passed on rapidly. And the viruses cause bad throats, which leads to more hacking, which leads to more bad throats, and so on.
Jimbo, UK

Yes, there is too much useless, idle chatter. I know people at work who comment about everything - your necktie, how much ketchup you put on your hamburger, whether or not you go to church, etc. The worst part is not the noise. It's the unnecessary micromanagement of the lives of others.
Jerry, USA


Think of the teabags I would save if my wife and her neighbours were to stop talking to each other.

Phil T, Oman
What a load of poppycock. We do not communicate with each other enough nowadays as it is. Lets not complain because some people actually talk to each other. I wonder what my wife and her neighbours would think about this? Think of the teabags I would save if they were to stop talking to each other. Talking to someone can be very beneficial to your frame of mind during times of stress.
Phil T, Oman

The report actually blamed the volume at which Hong Kongers talk...which is VERY LOUD! It omitted certain other habits of "Asia's World City" as the local government likes to promote itself, such as unrestrained spitting, coughing and sneezing in public!
Angus, Hong Kong SAR

It is true that Hong Kongers love chatting. People keep talking and talking when doing shopping and even having dinner. Hong Kongers are too busy to sit down and talk.
Bibi, Hong Kong


Chatter, gossip, interaction or whatever you call it by...it keeps the world going

Wendy, Canada
Chatter, gossip, interaction or whatever you call it by...it keeps the world going. Imagine a world with no talk! And how would offices be without water-cooler/coffee-maker gossip? Unimaginable!
Wendy T., Canada

A piece of economic-sociology? It would be interesting to find out whether there is any relationship between free market capitalism and the frequency of talking. Hong Kong is (still) one of the busiest and most free economies in the world, so perhaps that creates more opportunities and necessities to talk? It would be interesting to see whether chatting in Beijing has increased dramatically since market reform.
Ben, Seattle, US

Quite true enough, I just realized us Hong Kongers do occasionally talk a lot. (No intended offence for fellow Hong Kongers!)
Kin, Hong Kong


It appears to me that the root of the problem with flu epidemics in Hong Kong is one of overpopulation rather than chatting

Leonard, England
It appears to me that the root of the problem with flu epidemics in Hong Kong is one of overpopulation rather than chatting. I would wager that levels of flu infection can be better correlated with population density rather than how much or loudly people talk with one another.
Douglas Barker, Canada

In my experience, cinemas have become the chatterbox capitals of the world. Thank gods for DVDs.
Leonard, England

That's precisely why I use e-mail.
Pascal Jacquemain, UK (French)

See also:

01 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
Hong Kong chatter 'causes flu'
10 Dec 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: China
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