Illustration by Đàm Minh Chí
by Khoa Thư
Pursing his lips, 3-year-old Bin holds tightly to the sides of his pram.
His face turns red and he shakes his head angrily as his mother tries to push a spoonful of food into his mouth.
The battle of minds could last forever if Bin doesn’t knock the bowl from his mother’s hands or the mother, conversely, gives him a smartphone so he will be willing to open his mouth and eat in peace.
In my neighbourhood, when the clock hits 6pm, wartime starts.
Every corner of the playground has mothers chasing children – persuading, appeasing, fighting and crying at each over dinnertime.
“To eat or not to eat,” is their motto. And there is nothing in-between.
Growing up chubby is a standard for every Vietnamese child, set by adults who were born and raised during the country’s hard times.
“You must not be good at taking care of your child,” is a common criticism for any miserable mother who has a skinny daughter or son.
And if a mother in the first decade of the 21st century has to give up on her stubborn child, letting them go with a bowl half empty, mothers of Generation Alpha have their own weapons – smartphones.
But the answer may prove to be a double-edge sword.
Việt Nam recorded the highest growth of 38 per cent in obesity in Southeast Asia between 2010 and 2014, according to a study issued in July by Fitch Solutions Macro Research.
Earlier this month, another study by the National Institute of Nutrition of over 5,000 Vietnamese children aged 7 to 17 revealed that a lack of physical activity and inappropriate diets are responsible for the high rate of obesity among primary school students.
Up to 29 per cent of surveyed primary school students are overweight or obese. The rate for secondary school students and high school students are 19 per cent and 9.5 per cent, respectively.
A habit cannot be developed overnight. By giving children a chance to avoid exercise, parents stop them from growing up healthy.
Even Vietnamese adults are making a bad example for kids to follow.
The UN Population Fund ranks Việt Nam in the top ten countries for physical inactivity.
Meanwhile, according to the Department of Preventative Medicine under the Ministry of Health, up to 30 per cent of Vietnamese adults lack exercise.
A Vietnamese person walks an average of 3,600 steps, far below the World Health Organisation’s recommendation of 10,000 steps.
Therefore, it is essential to reconsider the responsibility of adults, especially parents, in setting up a healthy lifestyle for children.
“Kids need to do exercises – running, swimming, hiking, for example – to boost their immune systems and grow stronger,” said Ly Nguyễn, a Montessori teacher in Hà Nội.
“The guidance of parents is essential as it encourages children to be more active and helps to create emotional bonds of a family,” she adds.
According to Ly, using smartphones as babysitters has no positive impacts as children may not recognise and enjoy good tastes of food when they are busy focusing on colourful cartoon characters.
Instead, a nice, simple workout will help to improve children’s appetites. Meanwhile, they will learn to listen to their own bodies and know the limits of food intake they need.
It is not easy for parents of Generation Alpha when they need to fight against outdated concepts, while at the same time resisting the temptation of technology.
As experts sound the alarm over childhood obesity, the true demands of children should also be heard. Give them extra minutes to move around together and they will eat with joy and gratitude. — VNS