Viet Nam News
HÀ NỘI — When it comes to food policy, Việt Nam faces a double health burden: The country has seen a rising number of children with obesity in urban areas, while the number of malnourished children remains high.
Although it has decreased by 1 per cent per year, the percentage of children less than 5 years old affected by stunting (low height-for-age) remains high at 24.3 per cent nationwide in 2016, according to the National Institute of Nutrition. Malnutrition rates in children also remain high in some regions, especially in the mountainous northern regions (30.3 per cent) and the Central Highlands (34.2 per cent).
A recent study from the institute also shows a sharp increase in the number of overweight school-age children in Việt Nam compared to a decade ago.
In HCM City, the percentage of overweight children under 5 years old has tripled in the past decade, from 3.7 per cent in 2007 to 11.5 per cent in 2017, while the percentage of overweight children from grade 1-12 has doubled, from 11.6 per cent in 2007 to 21.9 per cent in 2017.
Overweight children account for 40.7 and 50 per cent of the total children living in downtown Hà Nội and HCM City, respectively, the study shows.
There are about 100,000 overweight children in the major cities of Hà Nội, HCM City, Hải Phòng, Cần Thơ and Đà Nẵng. More overweight children were counted in Hà Nội’s inner districts of Hai Bà Trưng, Đống Đa, and Hoàn Kiếm than in the outer districts of Hoàng Mai and Thanh Xuân, according to the Hà Nội Preventive Medicine Centre.
The increased number of overweight children can be attributed to an inactive lifestyle and excessive consumption of low nutrition, high-fat foods such as fast food and soft drinks, said Dr Lê Danh Tuyên, head of the National Institute of Nutrition.
Meanwhile, the reason behind the high percentage of malnourished children is the traditional diet of most Vietnamese, which does not provide enough vitamins and minerals for the children’s physical, mental and intellectual development, he said.
“The majority of Vietnamese are not aware of the importance of micronutrients such as vitamin A, iron, zinc, and iodine, which has resulted in a ‘hidden famine’ that affects millions of children,” he said.
Changing the parents’ consumption habits is pivotal to helping children develop a healthier diet, said Trần Khánh Vân, deputy head of the institute’s Department of Microbiology.
“Parents should seek to buy more micronutrient supplements that are allowed by the Ministry of Health,” she said.
“The family’s daily meals should incorporate different types of food, which should be chosen carefully to ensure they are rich with micronutrients,” she added.
Speaking on a different aspect of the issue, Dr Lê Danh Tuyên said young adults should be concerned about nutritional supplementation even before they start a family and become parents, as well as during pregnancy.
“Ensuring the right nutrition during the first 1,000 days of life is crucial to the healthy development of a child,” he said.
“Young women must ensure they receive enough nutrition during pregnancy, especially iron, for both them and their babies,” he added.
Young mothers should be supplemented with high doses of vitamin A within the first month after giving birth, Tuyên added. Infants should be breastfed during the first two years of life to prevent vitamin A deficiency. — VNS