Lack of nutrition stunts Vietnamese children

The National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) on May 25 launched the National Micro-nutrient Day at Binh Yen A Kindergarten in Thach That District in Hanoi.

It will offer about five million under-five children across the country free vitamin A capsules on the first - and second - day of next month.

The annual action by the Ministry of Health aims to improve public awareness about vitamin deficiency and reduce related diseases and malnutrition among children and mothers, said Truong Dinh Bac, deputy head of the ministry's Department of Preventive Medicine.

This year, the theme "Micro-nutrient necessary for child growth and development" was selected.

Bac said it was necessary to narrow any nutrition gaps between children in different areas.

According to the National Institute of Nutrition, micro-nutrient deficiencies hamper child growth and immunisation.

For examples, vitamin A deficiency affects eye sight. A heavy deficiency can lead to blindness.

Iron deficiency causes anaemia, affecting the weight of a foetus, the study ability of children and adult work.

Viet Nam successfully used vitamin A to overcome xerophthalmia (dry eyes) among children.

NIN's statistics show that last year about 25% of children under the age of five were stunted and 14.5% of children under five years old were underweight.

Nutritional gaps in children that are not properly treated can have severe short and long-term consequences, Low Yen Ling, the director of clinical research at Abbott Nutrition R&D's Asia Pacific Centre, said in HCM City.

Low said nutritional intake during childhood could also be compromised by feeding difficulties during illnesses and infections.

In 2013, a study of 6,746 children aged six to 12 years old in Southeast Asia, including 1, 776 Vietnamese, showed that children with lower height and weight were three times more likely to have a low intelligence.

Short-term outcomes of inadequate nutrition included poor weight or height gain, lack of interest, reduced activity, poor immunity and increased risk of death.

Long-term outcomes could also occur, including increased risk of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, small size, cognitive development, and poor school performance.

Low said there were several ways to overcome nutritional gaps in children, such as dietary counselling, food fortification, micro-nutrient supplementation and the use of pediatric nutritional supplements with macro and micro-nutrients.

Huynh Thi Duy Huong, head of the University of Medicine and Pharmacy HCM City's Neonatology and Paediatrics Department, said feeding difficulties affected about 35-40% of children in Viet Nam.