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Vietnamese people shortest in Southeast Asia

Friday, October 04, 2013, 12:48 GMT+7
Vietnamese people shortest in Southeast Asia
Students in a primary school in Vietnam are seen in this photo illustration

After three decades, Vietnamese people are only about 4 cm taller and have the lowest average height in Southeast Asia, according to a recent survey.

The Vietnamese national average height is only 4 cm more than that of three decades ago. It is the lowest in Southeast Asian countries involved in the survey as well as lower than national averages in South Korea, Japan and China, according to a recent survey by the National Nutrition Institute.

Accordingly, the average height of Vietnamese people aged 22-26 is 1.642 meters in men and 1.534 in women, Prof. Dr Nguyen Cong Khan, head of the Science, Technology and Training Department under the Health Ministry, told Tuoi Tre.

However, Vietnamese children have the potential for more growth. A survey of Vietnamese children aged 0 to 18 whose parents live in Paris, France, showed that they are as tall as their French peers. When asked why Vietnamese people’s height is not improved much despite the developing economy, Dr Khan said the issue is that Vietnamese children have suffered from malnutrition for a long time. “This situation will take a long time to improve, possibly two generations’ time. Human height improvement requires uniform solutions that need time to be effective,” Khan said. The most effectual health interventions are made when children are under two years old. Diseases due to bacteria contamination can affect children’s physical fitness, so along with measures to improve a child’s height and physical strength, other efforts need to be taken to ensure food safety and environmental hygiene. Regarding possible solutions to improve height averages, Khan said according to experience learned from other countries, attention must be paid to nutrition from the very beginning, when the child is only a fetus. After that, the first 2-3 years of life are a crucial time for height development in children. Children should be breastfed for at least the first 6 months of their life. Once they can eat solid food, their diet should contain the nutrients, including iron and other vitamins, essential to growth. Actions to aid growth can also be made in the first years of primary school. Japanese nutrition experts consider this period key to height development. In this period, a proper diet plays a very important role. Japan is assisting Vietnam in setting up special menus for children at school. Besides providing a nutritious diet, the program will encourage students to drink milk. Similar programs are common in Japan, aiming to aid children’s growth. Some are concerned over the fact that growth hormones are produced after 10 pm, when children should be sleeping, but when most Vietnamese children are actually studying. However, Dr Khan said there are no studies that show that growth hormones will be undermined by spending too much time studying. “Children need a healthy combination of studying, resting, and playing for optimal growth. Playing helps boost growth, as does playing sports.” Regarding this issue, Dr Do Thi Ngoc Diep, director of the HCMC Nutrition Center, advised that children should get healthy amounts of sleep during afternoon naps and at night. If they stay up too late, growth hormones will not secrete enough, affecting their overall height development. Dr Khan also explained that recent surveys show that the height of Vietnamese adolescents in urban areas has improved remarkably, but according to the National Nutrition Institute’s survey, Vietnamese children still have the lowest height in Southeast Asia.

“Adolescents in urban areas are much taller than those in the past 2-3 decades, but in rural areas, their height has not improved much. Therefore the average height growth remains low. Improper diet and overall lack of nutrition have also affected height,” the scientist said.

If effective interventions are carried out for 20 consecutive years, the average height of Vietnamese people will reach the present height of South Koreans, he added.

In related news, the HCMC People’s Committee has approved the plan to implement a national nutrition strategy for the 2011-2015 period. The plan aims to increase the average height of 5-year-old children, both male and female, in 2012 by 1 cm more than that of 2010. The same target has also been set for adolescents.

Nutritional improvementTuoi Tre has received feedback from readers about the average height of Vietnamese people. Most of them focus on nutritional improvement as a solution to boost height. A reader said, “To Vietnamese people, not only height but also weight is an issue that needs improvement. An essential issue here is that Vietnamese’s diet must contain enough nutrients, especially milk, but the prices of healthy foods in Vietnam are too high for many people. “Everybody knows the price of milk, a valuable nutrient to boost height, are the highest in the region, so many families too poor to buy it for their children. In foreign countries, children have an abundance of milk to drink. As a result, they are much taller than Vietnamese children,” another reader said. Another reader blamed the low average height on undernourishment. “In Canada, my daughters and their peers are more than 1.75 meters tall, while boys’ heights are 1.85-1.90 meters. Nutrition plays an important role in boosting height, beginning from the moment a child is born. In Vietnam, people are short due to improper nutrition. If their diets improve, their average height may increase to 10 cm more than the current average. Another reader said, “This is a national shame and the health sector must be held responsible for it. During World II, Japanese soldiers were considered short as they were 1.2-1.5 meters tall, but now, the average Japanese height is among the highest in the region. “Meanwhile, in Vietnam, it has been 38 years since the Vietnam War ended in 1975, but the height of Vietnamese has not improved much. Many government agencies repeatedly insist that the average height needs to increase, but they fail to seek ways to improve national nutrition. Yet another reader commented that playing sports is one of the best ways to boost height. However, “many schools lack facilities intended for playing sports, including volley ball and basket ball.”

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