Obesity rates are ballooning in Vietnam's big cities as malnourishment persists in the provinces, according to Professor Le Thi Hop of the National Nutrition Institute.
“Vietnam is one of 20 countries reporting the highest proportion of underweight children in the world. Meanwhile, about 1.2 million children here suffer from obesity,” she said during the Ho Chi Minh City Nutrition Conference on August 1.
“This poses challenges to the National Nutrion Strategy for 2011-2020 period,” she said.
According to a study released at the conference, the number of obese children under five in HCMC has increased three-fold over the past decade from 3.7 percent in 2000 to 11.5 percent in 2013.
The study blamed poor diet (i.e. too much protein and fat and too few vitamins and minerals), unstable meal times and a lack of physical exercise.
Meanwhile, Hop said the whole country suffers from a nutritional imbalance, noting that the majority of underweight children live in rural and mountainous areas.
“Up to 40 percent of children in Lao Cai and Kon Tum provinces are uderweight, this is a very high proportion,” she quoted a recent survey as saying
Dr Huynh Hanh of the University of British Columbia said the opening of fastfood chains in Vietnam is another major cause of obesity in Vietnam.
“Generally, obesity is influenced by the interplay of biological, behavioral and environmental factors,” he said.
According to Hanh, urban areas have been strongly influenced by nutritional transitions caused by a rise in the consumption of ultra-processed food products like burgers, soft drinks and simultaneous a drop in the consumption of fruits,vegetables and milk.
“Over the course of more than fifty years, various campaigns to influence the diets and exercise regimens of the population have failed to significantly modify the majority's habits,” he said, stressing the importance of raising awareness about obesity.
Dr Do Thi Ngoc Diep, director of the HCMC Nutrition Institute, stressed the role of schools in tackling obesity among children; the city has 1.5 million students, more than third of whom are eat breakfast and lunch at school and only return home after afternoon tutoring sessions.
“Obesity has become a major problem in HCMC. It is also common among women of prime child-bearing age,” she said.