More timely intervention and better communication between parents and schools could help in the fight against childhood obesity, according to experts who spoke at a conference in Ho Chi Minh City on August 6.

Research conducted by the HCM City Nutrition Centre shows that obesity was at its highest in children aged 36-53 months and six to nine years.

For children under five years old, the rate rose three times in 2010 compared to 2000.

According to other research findings by the Vietnam Nutrition Association, 21.9 percent of 2,375 children four to nine years old in Hanoi's Hoan Kiem district in 2012 were overweight. Eighteen percent were obese.

The rate is higher among boys than among girls, said Dr Truong Tuyet Mai of the association.

The rates of high cholesterol, high triglycerides, high LDL cholesterol (the "bad" cholesterol) and low HDL cholesterol known as the "good" cholesterol in these children were 15.3 percent, 30.7 percent, 12.6 percent and 5.3 percent, respectively.

Vu Quynh Hoa of the HCM City Nutrition Centre and Association for Food and Nutrition said research showed that school-based nutrition intervention was successful in helping prevent weight problems in primary school children in the 2012-13 academic year.

Of 2,481 children at two primary schools in the city's inner and outlying districts, 43.5 percent were overweight or obese at the beginning of the school year.

The number fell to 37.8 percent six months after the nutrition intervention was carried out, she added.

Parents and children were taught about proper nutrition and the need for physical activities, Hoa said, adding that training courses for teachers were also held.

Dr Phan Nguyen Thanh Binh of the centre said the city's Department of Education and Training helped the centre carry out the school nutrition project.

The programme is one of six major projects in the Implementation Plan of the National Strategy on Nutrition for the 2011-15 period, he said, adding that its aim is to create standardised menus for primary school students in HCM City that meet recommended nutrition requirements.

At the conference, Professor Le Thi Hop, head of the Vietnam Nutrition Association, said she is worried about the increased number of fast-food restaurants opening in the country, particularly in large cities such as Hanoi and HCM City .

She said that such restaurants have contributed to the obesity problem, especially for children from pre-school through high school age. The problem exists in both urban and rural areas, she added.

Vietnam has become a hot market for fast-food chains and restaurants.

In 2009, fast food turnover nationwide was 500 billion VND (23.8 million USD). It rose to 869 billion VND (41.38 million) in 2010 and 870 billion VND (41.4 million USD) in 2011.

Many of the customers at fast-food restaurants and shops are children of school age and people aged 19 to 30.-VNA