One in four children under five in Vietnam suffer from stunting and malnutrition. Despite the common perception that a person's height is determined by genetics, nutrition and lifestyle are in fact the keys for children’s growth.
Back in the 1950s, the average heights of Vietnamese and Japanese people were almost the same. Vietnamese men were 154 cm tall and women were 151 cm tall on average, and Japanese men and women were 150 cm and 149 cm, respectively.
Despite years of efforts to improve the stature of its people, Vietnam is still one of the countries with the lowest average height in the world.
According to a UNICEF report, Vietnam is also the country with the highest rate of stunting in Southeast Asia with a rate of 20 to 29 percent among children aged 0-5. This can be attributed to a number of reasons, including lack of nutrition in early childhood.
Undernutrition in growing kids can lead to serious issues, including stunting, poor cognitive development and illness.
When a kid falls behind on the growth curve, catch-up growth is one of the most important factors that help them get back on track.
The contribution of genetics on height growth from infancy to early childhood is relatively small. Instead, nutrition and a healthy lifestyle are the keys. Nutrition in particular is crucial for children’s growth within the first five years of life.
“Genetics determine the bone elongation but environmental factors, especially nutrition, help children reach their full height potential no matter how the geographical or cultural differences are,” said Robert Murray, MD, Professor of Human Nutrition, College of Education and Human Ecology, The Ohio State University.
“The first five years are considered the golden window for parents to prepare a strong foundation for the children’s future. Height growth potential is achieved 60 percent in the first five years. Nutrition should be taken advantage at the early stage of life to maximize the potential in the future," Professor Murray added.
Golden opportunity for Vietnamese children to catch up with the world’s height standard
Nutrition is the key to growth. If children have a nutritional deficiency in the first five years of life, they may suffer from slow growth, even stunt. Once stunted at early childhood, children remain shorter than their peers and are unlikely to ever catch up fully.
It can be challenging for families when their kid falls behind on the growth curve.
Catch-up growth, which refers to kids who have a period of impaired growth followed by a rate of growth that is relatively accelerated, is one of the most important aspects of making sure a kid gets back to a normal height and weight.
Kids who experience faltering growth often need extra calories, protein and micronutrients. Catch-up growth requires nutrients to not only replenish those lost during the episode of inadequate intake, but also support further growth.
“Children need to grow weight, height, immunity and cognitive system at the same time. When they develop comprehensively, they will become healthy and active, which contribute to helping children develop optimally in many aspects, including height,” said Professor, Doctor Nguyen Gia Khanh, chairman of Vietnam Pediatric Association.
That’s why parents should pay close attention to children’s nutrition to help their kids reach the optimum of development.
Growth in height is, in fact, the extension of bone. This process occurs in a structure located at the ends of long bones, called growth cartilage. This explains why in the first five years of life, young children need nutrients that support the growth cartilage such as Arginine and Vitamin K2. How bone grows can be described in the video below.
“Arginine is an important amino acid which may play a role in height growth. It promotes the multiplication of cells at the growth plate in bones to help bones grow longer. Research has shown stunted children have significantly lower blood levels of arginine than normal children and lower arginine intake is associated with slower height growth. Natural vitamin K2 is an important nutrient that helps deliver and bind calcium to bones and ultimately, helps build stronger bones.” - Yen Ling Low, Ph.D., Director, Research & Development with Abbott’s Nutrition R&D Center, Asia Pacific, explained.
Abbott has recently launched an innovative childhood nutrition solution, the new PediaSure with arginine and natural vitamin K2, to help bones grow longer and stronger to further support catch-up growth.
PediaSure has been clinically shown to improve measures of height and weight in kids with or at risk of undernutrition. When inadequate nutrition and growth are a concern, it is advisable to intervene early with PediaSure to support catch-up growth and create a strong foundation to help kids reach their growth potential. PediaSure now includes vitamin K2 and arginine to continue supporting catch-up growth in kids who need it.
Scientific research in preclinical studies has shown that arginine may play a role in linear growth and that kids who received more arginine were shown to grow faster.
Additionally, vitamin K2 is an important nutrient that delivers and binds calcium to bones and ultimately, helps build stronger bones.
“Abbott has been continuously developing products that help babies and children grow, keep their bodies strong and active. PediaSure is the most clinically proven pediatric nutrition supplement shown to enhance catch-up growth and immunity. Now, new PediaSure is upgraded with Arginine and natural vitamin K2 and is scientifically designed to further support catch-up growth in kids who need it so that more children can fulfil their growth potential”, Yen Ling added.
With a deep understanding of the nutritional challenges in Vietnam, Abbott shows their commitment to pioneering the research and working closely with the Vietnam stakeholders and healthcare organizations in supporting children to catch-up and sustain growth.