Investing in nutrition will benefit children, families and national economy

Update: 2/22/2013 - View: 11399

According to a recent study of the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN), Vietnam ranked 21st in the 33 countries in Asia and Africa in supporting and implementing optimal nutrition practices for children from 0 to 24 months. The nutrition practices are evaluated in this study based on the recommendations of the prestigious international organization, such as World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), including:

  • Exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life (not giving any food and drinks other than breast milk during the first 6 months).
  • Initiating breastfeeding early (within one hour of birth)
  • Appropriate complementary feeding (with adequate complementary foods at the right time and in reasonable amounts).

Poor feeding practices during the first two years of life can lead to long-term negative consequences on growth, development, scholastic achievements and even earning capacity of children in the future.

According to the Nutrition Surveillance Survey 2010 (National Institute of Nutrition - NIN), in Vietnam, there are 61.7% of mothers initiating breastfeeding within the first hour after birth, and only 19.6% of children under six months exclusively breastfed. The complementary feeding is not also appropriate: in some rural and mountainous areas, infants are often fed solid foods too soon and with inadequate nutrients, while in the cities, some mothers substitute formula milk for breast milk. Also, according to the data from the NIN, one out of every five children under 5 suffering from underweight - moderate or severe (17.5%), and one out of every three children suffering from stunting – moderate or severe (29.3%). In the context of Vietnam, there are nearly 8 million children under 5 years old, so this means that about 2.5 million of our children are stunting.

There are very specific guidelines about how to provide for children the optimal nutrition. The international health experts agree that exclusive breastfeeding, without any other food or drinks, is a great opportunity to help reduce illness and death in children. Children who were breastfed have less risk of infection and diseases such as diarrhea, pneumonia and asthma. Moreover, breastfed babies will have lower risk of obesity, hypertension and other non-communicable chronic diseases later as adults. The breastfeeding mothers also benefit by reducing the risk of uterine and breast cancer.

Results of some worldwide studies show that besides the direct impacts to child health, nutrition in early years of life also affects to learning and earning capacity of children in the future. Malnourished children often enroll in school late, repeat classes and have less ability to acquire knowledge. On average, those who are malnourished as children often have incomes less than 10% throughout life. The World Bank estimated that malnutrition can cause damage to 3% of Gross Domestic Product of a country.

Vietnam is a developing country and very interested in health care for children and mothers, thus giving children the optimal nutrition in the first two years of life is very important. This can only be achieved if all fathers, grandparents, health workers and employers support and encourage mothers to initiate breastfeeding early and exclusively breastfeed for the first six months of age. Concurrently, policy makers should consider policies related to infant feeding and increase the effectiveness of these policies. The regulations about the promotion and sales of breast milk substitute products (Decree 21/2006/ND-CP) and increasing maternity leave to 6 months should be approved soon.    

If we promote proper nutritional practice as well as strengthen implementation of related policies, Vietnamese children will be healthier, taller, more intelligent and more development to contribute to Vietnam to become stronger in economy and society. And once we are committed to improving nutrition for children, we can ensure that Vietnam will rank higher in the list of countries supporting optimal feeding practice for children.

Professor Le Thi Hop – The Director of NIN