3.4m children in Vietnam are undernourished

HA NOI - The Viet Nam General Nutrition Survey 2009-10 report, released yesterday, revealed that one out of three children under the age of five suffers from malnutrition, causing serious developmental defects.

The study also showed that the rate of pre-school children who are underweight is 17.5per cent, and that 29.3 per cent experienced stunted growth in 2010. In other words, Viet Nam has 2.1 million stunted and 1.3 million underweight children.

Another alarming finding was that children in remote areas suffer the consequences of malnutrition at a rate twice as high as those who grew up in more developed regions of the country.

Other scientific studies have proven that the effects of malnutrition go beyond the potential growth rate of individual children, but can also have an impact on the social and economic development of the country.

Nguyen Viet Tien, Deputy Health Minister, said, "This study has provided a more comprehensive picture of the nutritional situation of families in Viet Nam. This information adds to a wider understanding of the importance of the issue to our country."

Other problems revealed by the survey included an obesity rate among children close to 6 per cent. In large urban areas, such as HCM City and Ha Noi, the rates are as high as 12-15 per cent.

Since 2006, the childhood obesity rate for children under five has seen a six-fold rise.

"We face two challenges. On the one hand, malnutrition remains a problem in much of the rural areas of Viet Nam, particularly in mountainous regions. At the same time, urban areas are facing the problem of childhood obesity. The situation requires quick action so we don't make the same mistakes as middle-income countries," said Tien.

The average rate of reduction was 1.3 per cent per year for stunted children and 7.1 per cent for underweight children from 1995 to 2010, according to the survey.

Rajen Kumar Sharma, a representative from UNICEF, said, " Although there has been a notable reduction of growth-stunting over the last few years, the number are still much higher than they should be. These disparities in health and nutrition reveal underlying socio-economic factors at play."

The Government launched a National Nutrition Strategy through 2020 today to.

Sharma said, "The National Nutrition Strategy particularly addresses the very important problem of stunted growth as a result of malnutrition. Now we are attempting to draw the attention of investors and other stakeholders to the seriousness of the issue."

The National Nutrition Strategy Plan through 2020, which includes a vision towards 2030, was adopted this February by the Government. The overall goal of the strategy is to improve the physical and mental well-being of the population by ensuring adequate nutrition.

The stratery plans to reduce stunting rate in children under five years old to 23 per cent and underweight children to 12.5 per cent by 2020.

The strategy focuses on the quality of meals by providing mothers with information about good nutritional practices to minimise the negative effects of obesity and malnutrition. An important part of the programme is also to educate the adult population about dietary standards.

The survey, conducted by the National Institute of Nutrition, included over 37,000 people from 8,400 households, and was spread over 63 provinces and cities nation-wide.