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Vietnam will avert the obesity 'epidemic' in 2035

Vietnam will avert the obesity 'epidemic' in 2035

Saturday, July 18, 2015, 12:42 GMT+7

Editor’s note: Dam Nhung, a 28-year-old resident of Ho Chi Minh City, hopes that young Vietnamese would be free from the grip of obesity and stay fit as she wrote to the “Ky Vong Viet Nam 20 Nam Toi” (“My Expectations for Vietnam in 20 Years”) writing contest.

Vietnam needs to act right now so that in the next 20 years it would not face a tricky public health problem which has burdened many countries: obesity.

After the plagues of heart disease, cancer and AIDS, obesity is becoming the “fourth pandemic,” regarding its exponential rise and the hazard it poses to community health.

The wake-up call

One third of the current world population is overweight and obese, and the affected are found in all corners of the world. Though Vietnam is currently among the group with a low affliction rate (13 percent), its growth regarding the number of sufferers is among the fastest in the world. Without timely action, Vietnam will be at risk of rivaling world “powers” in terms of obesity by 2035.

Worryingly, obesity is closely associated with 10 common types of cancer and life-threatening chronic illnesses, including hypertension, diabetes and heart disease. Another cause for concern is that while the country’s overall infliction rate is 13 percent, the rate has soared up to 40 percent in large hubs such as Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi and Binh Duong. Children, teenagers and youths – who hold the country’s future in their hands – constitute the current top group of sufferers.

Meanwhile, top foreign brands serving greasy fast food, irresistible Coke and a wide array of mouth-watering chocolate, snacks and confectionery have entered Vietnam in recent years. While many developed countries are trying to put a curb on locals’ consumption of such food, fast food meals are becoming a fad among Vietnamese youngsters. Many families also choose fast food shops for get-togethers or outings.

Most of the kids in my neighborhood are quite heavy and hopeless when it comes to fried chicken and smartphones. They are also couch potatoes who watch a lot of television and spend a large part of their days playing games and surfing the Internet on the computer instead of frolicking together. My three-year-old son, who weighs 14 kilograms and stands 97 centimeters tall, is considered by many to be malnourished. I’m also cautioned for failing to add nutrition to his diet with such nourishing dishes as salangane nests, black chicken or the skin on milk. Is it right that people now pay scant attention to the WHO’s height and weight benchmark or the balanced nutrition tower? On my way home from work every day, seeing fast food shops packed with students, I often wonder if a stark prospect is looming over our country, just as it does in the U.S., where one in every three adults is obese.   

No! I hope Vietnamese people would both enjoy greater longevity and better health.

For a healthy Vietnam

Fortunately, the situation in Vietnam is not yet alarming. Therefore, if we work together, we can absolutely avert the “pandemic” before it is too late.

Ninety percent of overweight cases are put down to an overwhelming intake of energy and limited physical activity. The key to control over the situation lies in how to get the community to have a reasonable diet and exercise more.

In my opinion, raising local awareness is a requisite. The Ministry of Information and Communications and the Ministry of Health should work closely with competent agencies to organize activities to enhance locals’ knowledge of nutrition, weight and obesity.

For instance, game shows on obesity and physical exercise should be aired on television. Radio the Voice of Vietnam and local broadcasting stations should also cover intensively the adverse effects of being overweight or obese. Meanwhile, it’s a good idea that women’s associations would help housewives design nutritionally-balanced diets and prepare delectable yet low-calorie dishes. Signs warning drivers and passengers about the insidious effects of fast food and obesity would be seen on streets.

It’s vital that such content be clear, specific and catchy. I believe that once armed with sufficient knowledge of the plague of obesity, everyone would act to avoid the problem on their own initiative.

It’s also essential that a curb be put on advertisements for instant noodles, formula milk, confectionery and certain beverages, as their presence has caused misunderstandings of nutrition among a large portion of Vietnamese people.

Due attention must be paid to physical and fitness activities, as they both forestall obesity and improve Vietnamese people’s build in the future. The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism should set certain targets, including making sure ample exercise gear is available at parks and public spaces. Sports centers should also strive to draw more locals by purchasing hi-tech gear, offering discounts or free sessions and holding sporting events.

The ministry should also join hands with its education counterpart to boost fitness activities by making physical education a curricular subject which has a practice period each day. The ministry should also cooperate with the Ministry of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs to make sure that companies have standard gyms, and intervals be applied, so as to stop office workers from sitting for hours on end, which easily leads to obesity and accumulative belly fat.

It would be ideal if office workers worked only seven hours a day. After leaving the office at 4:00 pm every day, workers, particularly women, could spend more time in the gym and still prepare quality dinner for their families.

In addition, ministries and agencies should work out measures to create green, spacious public places and encourage locals to do exercise there. Sections for pedestrians should be cleared and shady, while locals are encouraged to ride their bikes.

With proper knowledge, it would not be difficult for individuals to keep fit and stay in good shape. With resolve and joint efforts, the target of curbing obesity and boosting fitness engagement is readily within reach.

“Ky Vong Viet Nam 20 Nam Toi” is a competition organized by the World Bank in Vietnam and Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper that encourages local youths to write down their wildest, yet feasible, dreams about how Vietnam will change in 20 years’ time.

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