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|Vietnam’s obesity rate is rising, but still lower than in neighbouring nations|
Authorised agencies in Vietnam have been concerned about how to curb the increase of obesity, especially among young people. Recognising the importance, the Ministry of Health (MoH) last month launched the Vietnam Health Programme, aiming to improve public health by promoting a 10,000-step daily walk.
The WHO, meanwhile, believes that in order to discover the most effective solution to the issue, it is necessary to initially analyse all possible causes.
Causes of obesity
According to the 2018 report on non-communicable diseases by the WHO, unhealthy eating and physical inactivity are two of the four main risk groups leading to heart failure, diabetes, obesity, and cancer in countries, including Vietnam, where obesity has increased alarmingly.
Regarding unhealthy eating, WHO recommended countries apply measures to reduce the amount of salt in people’s daily eating.
Fixes include applying a salt maximum threshold in food ingredients or in meals; applying low salt diet at hospitals, schools, and offices; raising people’s awareness about the negative impacts of salt, thus helping them change habits; and forcing businesses to add salt amounts to their packaging.
In terms of physical inactivity, according the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Vietnam is one of the 10 countries worldwide to suffer from high physical inactivity.
A survey by the MoH’s Department of Preventive Medicine showed that up to 30 per cent of adults lack physical activities. Physical qualities, resistance, and strength of Vietnamese young people are lower than the accepted standard.
What is more, according to the latest study by the National Institute of Nutrition (NIN), Vietnamese people walk 3,600 steps a day on average, while that among office men is as low as 600 steps. The WHO suggests 10,000 steps per day.
The WHO report also showed that air pollution is a reason for an increase in non-communicable diseases.
Moreover, many other scientific research studies prove that high use frequency of electronic screens, sleep deprivation, or high consumption of fat- or salt-rich food also result in the diseases.
Education - optimal solutions
In many countries that face a high obesity rate, many measures have been taken simultaneously.
They include the issuance of policies to encourage the reduction of the amount of sugar and fat in prepared food and drinks. Some policies also require clear information about nutritional facts on labels, and programmes on nutrition, healthy eating, and physical activity.
The levy of a special consumption tax (SCT) on soft drinks has proven to be ineffective. Laos, Cambodia, Brunei, and Thailand are outstanding examples for this, with their obesity rate between 5-19, and aged from 18 and higher, continuing to increase over the past 16 years despite the tax.
Worse still, Brunei and Thailand are the two countries with the highest obesity rate in the region. Thailand’s rate aged 5-19 lifted from 3.1 per cent in 2000 to 11.3 per cent in 2016, while the threshold in Brunei ascended from 6.4 per cent in 2000 to 14.1 per cent in 2016.
A recent study by the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research (NZIER) carried out in 2017 on the efficiency of improving consumer health by levying an SCT on non-alcoholic sugary drinks showed that is difficult to point to a causal link between the tax and consumption habits, or correlation between tax and the efficiency of health improvement.
Due to this most countries, including those with highly-increasing rates of obesity and diabetes such as China, South Korea, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, and Australia, do not set an SCT on beverages, but focus on educational programmes on nutrition, exercise, and physical activities.
Other measures such as labelling to help consumers understand what they have, or encouraging businesses to develop healthy products, are being applied successfully in locations such as Singapore and Japan.
These measures help increase people’s awareness about a healthy diet without applying any taxes, which can negatively affect consumers, or the general business climate.