Tue, Nov 09, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Vietnam plans to make bigger people through milk power

GROWTH SPURT The impoverished communist country is hoping to give its citizens a more nutritious diet, increasing its national stature, literally


During long years of war and severe poverty in Vietnam, milk and meat were true luxuries only the rich could afford.

Many children went blind from lack of Vitamin A. Countless others experienced stunted growth that has kept the whole population short and thin.

But after 30 years of peace, the communist country has overcome many of these problems and is now boasting unprecedented economic growth that it hopes will translate into building a taller, stronger people.

An ambitious plan submitted for government approval last month aims to increase the average height of men and women by about 6.35cm over the next 25 years with milk as the main ingredient powering that spurt.

"The Vietnamese people on average are shorter than many people in the world as well as compared with people in the region, and they're also weaker physically," said Duong Nghiep Chi, director of Vietnam's Sport Science Institute in charge of the strategic plan. He noted that the Japanese went through a similar growth spurt after World War II.

Since the US-Vietnam War ended in 1975, the average height of men has shot up from 1.57m to 1.62m and in women from 1.45m to 1.57m. Weights have also increased an average of 8.1kg for men and about 2.925kg for women over the past 30 years, with food becoming more widely available only in the past decade.

But studies in Vietnam have found that despite the recent leap in size and fast-growing milk sales over the past decade, many children still aren't drinking enough milk or getting all the vitamins and minerals they need, such as calcium and zinc.

It's partly because of limited resources in a nation where the average income is still only about US$420 a year, with poverty concentrated in the countryside where most of Vietnam's 82 million people live. Perhaps an even bigger challenge will be promoting knowledge and awareness.

Nutrition experts say many adults think milk and cheese are just for young children, who often stop eating dairy products after age 2. Some new mothers also don't believe they produce enough breast milk, leading them to substitute their own milk with formula.

Chi's plan hopes to overcome those misconceptions by providing nutritional guidelines about what children should eat and how much. A pilot project also would select 10,000 children ages 6-18 throughout the country and supply them with free milk for two years.

"If this program is approved, we will launch awareness campaigns among parents on how to give children a better diet," Chi said.

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