Obesity and abdominal fat among school students in Ho Chi Minh City have been worryingly swelling, while physical education at most schools remains inadequate and the students are weighed down with overloaded academic schedules. A recent study conducted by the Ho Chi Minh City Nutrition Institute among nearly 5,000 children aged between 10 and 15 showed that 22.1 percent of them are overweight, while 13.4 percent suffer obesity and 31.3 percent have accumulated a worrying amount of fat in their abdomen.
This means one in every three children has abdominal fat, which is an alarming fact as the fat has generally been associated with adults.
According to Dr. Do Thi Ngoc Diep, director of the institute, the study, which was conducted citywide, can be representative of the minor population.
“Many hold a misconception that fat in the abdomen is less dangerous than obesity, but in reality both forms of excess fat are equally detrimental. Studies have revealed higher health risks among people with saggy abdominal flesh than their obese counterparts,” Dr. Diep pointed out.
Doctors have warned that obese children are more likely to contract many diseases, including lipid disorders, hypertension, diabetes, gallstone, bone and joint problems, and even cancer.
Dr. Diep blamed obesity among school students in Ho Chi Minh City on many reasons, including an improper diet and unhealthily passive lifestyle.
Dietitian Truong Hong Son cited another recent survey as showing that obesity among children in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi is on the rise.
In these two cities, obese elementary school children account for approximately 20 percent of the total number of the children surveyed, according to small-scale studies launched in non-suburban and better-off neighborhoods.
In large Vietnamese cities, the proportion of obese or overweight children is higher than the global and Asian average, Son added.
The rate of overweight or obese under-five-year-olds in Ho Chi Minh City is 9.6 percent compared to the global ratio of 6.9 percent.
Son noted the rate in the southern economic hub is currently the highest in the country, followed by Da Nang and Hanoi, at 9.9 percent and 5.5 percent respectively as surveyed in their inner-city areas.
Calorie-rich diet, inert lifestyle
Surveys have revealed that a large number of minors in Ho Chi Minh City consume over 2,500kcal per day, while the ideal nutrition input for a 10-year-old or so is 2,100kcal every day.
Dr. Diep said the majority of the obese or abdominally saggy children in the above-mentioned study, whom she interviewed, replied they do not have time for physical exercise or sports.
Experts have put kids’ inert lifestyle down to a shortage of playgrounds at schools and in residential areas, and the inadequacy of physical education regarding both quality and quantity.
Nguyen Thanh Nam, a physical education instructor at Tran Binh Trong Elementary School in District 5, said the current physical education volume of two periods per week is hardly enough for the kids there.
Most of the periods are spent on simple, cursory physical routines instead of playing sports, which does little to help obese children battle their condition.
“Compared to their peers in other countries, Vietnamese kids cannot do much physical exercise as schools are usually not large enough while streets are jammed with people and traffic. I think education officials should make a point of improving the quality and volume of physical education,” Nam said.
Meanwhile, a lecturer at the Ho Chi Minh City University of Physical Education and Sports divulged his school is currently working on a new physical education curriculum to be applicable to kindergarten and elementary school students.
“We want kids to do such exercises as climbing stairs properly and throwing objects into baskets with great precision. Similar exercises are being incorporated in Singaporean school curricula,” this lecturer said.
By contrast, just like their peers elsewhere across the country, kids in Ho Chi Minh City typically go to daytime and evening classes from dawn to dusk and even into the late evening.
Their limited remaining time is usually spent on such stationary activities as playing online games, manipulating digital devices or watching TV rather than frolicking around or engaging in physical routines.
Efforts to burn kids’ excess fat
According to Tang Ba Le, head of the community sports division under the Ho Chi Minh City Department of Culture and Sports, local students now have access to an array of sports, including football (soccer) and swimming.
Traditional martial arts, including Vovinam, will be included in the curriculum in the time to come.
City schools have been doing well in running swimming classes for their students, Le added.
District sports centers have provided schools with coaches, offered thousands of free swimming tickets, and even hired buses to take students to swimming pools.
One of city elementary students’ favorite sports is basketball, Le said.
Nguyen Duy Bang, a high jump record holder and head of the Bang Tam Sports Club known for its height stimulation exercise classes, revealed his staff have overweight kids perform activities designed to help them shed weight while providing fun-packed workout sessions to speed up their bodily growth and maximize their height at the same time.