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Project to improve Vietnamese build remains on drawing board

Project to improve Vietnamese build remains on drawing board

Saturday, June 06, 2015, 10:11 GMT+7

Progress on a project meant to enhance Vietnamese people’s build has been painstakingly slow due to sloppy organization and an inadequate budget, even though it was approved a few years ago.

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A comprehensive project intended to touch up the Vietnamese stature and physique from 2011 to 2030, or the 641 Project for short, was initiated in the early 2000s and approved in 2011.

The budget funding to be earmarked for the ambitious project was to total over VND6 trillion (US$275.61 million).

The project has no steering board and only has a coordination board instead, which boasts four overseers of four component programs.

The programs, which encompass research on factors decisive to youths’ physical growth, nutrition and healthcare, stepping up physical education among those aged from three to 18, boosting people’s awareness, and triggering behavioral changes to improve their stature and physique, are run independently by the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism.

The absence of a steering board and lack of seamless coordination between the two ministries and some others, including their finance counterpart, is responsible for the 641 Project’s stagnant progress, Dam Quoc Chinh, head of the project’s coordination board, stressed.

Fifteen research works assigned to the National Institute of Nutrition have yet to receive the promised budget amounts, Le Bach Mai, the institute’s deputy head, complained.

The 641 Project’s other activities are also marred by inadequate budget planning, further worsening its tardiness.  

According to an expert joining the project, 20 and 30 percent of its funding comes from state and local coffers respectively, with the remainder mobilized from society.

Since it was approved four years ago, the project has received over VND10 billion ($459,348) from the state budget, which is barely enough to cover office operation fees.

Nguyen Thi Lam, deputy head of the nutrition institute, told a meeting late last month to address the project’s tardiness that many of its programs, such as standard school diets and the provision of milk to students, remain in their infancy.

Chiều cao lý tưởng sẽ giúp các bạn trẻ gặp thuận lợi hơn trong cuộc sống - Ảnh: Thuận Thắng

A good height and physique gives today's youth advantages in life and work. Photo: Tuoi Tre

Overly ambitious project?

Several experts expressed their concerns that the 641 Project may verge on the impossible.

The project, divided into two phases, aims to elevate 18-year-old Vietnamese males’ average height to 1.67 meters by 2020, while that of 18-year-old females is expected to inch up to 1.57 meters.

The desired heights in both genders mean an increase of over three centimeters compared to 2011, when the project was approved.

The project designers also expect to raise Vietnamese male youths’ and female youths’ average height to 168.5 centimeters and 158.5 centimeters respectively by 2030, and enhance young people’s stamina, which is manifest in their hand squeeze power and how they perform in average-length runs.

Upon the project’s approval in 2011, several insiders voiced their concerns that its targets are out of reach and teeter on the impossible, even with intensive intervention measures.

Mai, the deputy head of the National Institute of Nutrition, said Vietnamese youths’ height has seen rises in recent years just like elsewhere in the world.

However, their average height can only inch up by one to one and a half centimeters every 10 years in stable socio-economic conditions.

The targeted increase of up to over three centimeters in only nine years is thus unachievable, she stressed.

Trẻ học lớp lá (tại một trường mầm non ở TP.HCM) cao trên 1,2m - Ảnh: T.T.D.

Five-year-olds have their height measured at a kindergarten in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Tuoi Tre

By contrast, Chinh, the head of the coordination board, affirmed that the 641 Project is modeled after those of other countries, specifically Japan, which has achieved astounding accomplishments regarding their youths’ build and physique.

He is thus positive about the project’s feasibility.

Recent surveys revealed Vietnamese youth are among groups with the smallest build in Asia. 

In 2014, approximately 25 percent of Vietnamese kids under five suffered malnutrition, according to the National Institute of Nutrition.

The rate rose to 35, 31 and 28.1 percent in the Central Highlands, northern mountainous region and the central region, respectively.

These malnourished children are most unlikely to attain the standard height by adulthood.

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