Vietnam plans $287 mil project for taller, better built population

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Vietnamese female football players (in white T-shirts) are smaller than their Asian competitors. Photo courtesy of Tuoi Tre

Vietnam is planning to invest around US$287 million in studies and action programs to raise people's average height by a further four centimeters by 2030, officials said at a conference Friday.

Lam Quang Thanh, deputy director of the sports department at the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, said the project aims to raise the average height of Vietnamese women at age 18 to 157.5 centimeters (5 feet 2 inches) and men to 168.5 centimeters (5 feet 6 inches).

Figures released at a conference in Ho Chi Minh City in March showed that Vietnamese have grown only four centimeters in the past 35 years, to 164.4 centimeters (5 feet 4 inches) for men and 153 centimeters (roughly 5 feet) for women.

Experts had then blamed poor nutrition and lack of physical activity for Vietnamese people being shorter than many of their neighbors.

The new project was approved by the Prime Minister in April 2011 as the first national project on improving the physique of the Vietnamese population.

It would target pregnant women and children from newborns till 18-year-olds, a Tuoi Tre report quoted Thanh as saying.

Money will be spent on studying the impact on body size and strength in order to carry out healthcare programs that will combine physical activities and nutrition supplies, he said.

The project will introduce more physical education at school for children between 3 and 18 years old, and carry out awareness campaigns on health and physique for the general public.

Deputy minister Le Khanh Hai told Tuoi Tre on the sidelines of the conference that the success of the project will depend largely on funding from local governments and private sources.

"The project will affect almost everyone as it is about health, thus we hope we can raise a lot of money from the community," Hai said, noting contribution from the central government's budget will only have a stimulation effect.

Other officials involved in the project said at least 46 countries in the world are carrying out similar projects, including the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and China, which has nearly 20 such projects.

Dam Quoc Chinh, who heads the project, said the height and health of Vietnamese people lag far behind that of developed countries.

If the country is late to change people's thoughts and behaviors related to their physical health, they will be left far behind by their neighbors as well, he said

Doctors said at the conference that children need deep sleep and should go to sleep before 10 p.m. and exercise at least 30 minutes a day.

Do Thi Ngoc Diep, director of Ho Chi Minh City Nutrition Center, said a child's physique depends 20 percent on genes and more than 50 percent on nutrition, exercise, and sleep.

"A child's height is decided between the embryo stage and puberty, especially between the ages of one and eight; after that, the growth is not significant," she said.

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