The Vietnam General Nutrition Survey 2009–10 report, released on April 4, revealed that 29.3 percent of children under the age of five suffers from stunted growth seriously affecting socio-economic development potential.

The study also showed that the rate of pre-school children who are underweight was 17.5per cent, in 2010. In other words, Vietnam has 2.1 million stunted and 1.3 million underweight children.

Another alarming finding was that children in remote areas suffer the consequences of malnutrition at a rate twice as high as those who grew up in more developed regions of the country.

Scientific studies have proven that the effects of malnutrition go beyond the potential growth rate of individual children, but can also have an impact on the social and economic development of the country.

Nguyen Viet Tien, Deputy Health Minister, said, "This study has provided a more comprehensive picture of the nutritional situation of families in Vietnam . This information adds to a wider understanding of the importance of the issue to our country."

Other problems revealed by the survey included an obesity rate among children close to 6 per cent. In large urban areas, such as HCM City and Hanoi , the rates are as high as 12-15 percent.

Since 2006, the childhood obesity rate for children under five has seen a six-fold rise.

"We face two challenges. On the one hand, malnutrition remains a problem in much of the rural areas of Vietnam , particularly in mountainous regions. At the same time, urban areas are facing the problem of childhood obesity. The situation requires quick action so we don't make the same mistakes as middle-income countries," said Tien.

The average rate of reduction was 1.3 per cent per year for stunted children and 7.1 percent for underweight children from 1995 to 2010, according to the survey.

The same day, the Government launched a National Nutrition Strategy through 2020.

Rajen Kumar Sharma, a representative from UNICEF said, "The National Nutrition Strategy particularly addresses the very important problem of stunted growth as a result of malnutrition. Now we are attempting to draw the attention of investors and other stakeholders to the seriousness of the issue."

The National Nutrition Strategy Plan through 2020, which includes a vision towards 2030, was adopted this February by the Government. The overall goal of the strategy is to improve the physical and mental well-being of the population by ensuring adequate nutrition.

The stratery plans to reduce stunting rate in children under five years old to 23 percent and underweight children to 12.5 percent by 2020.

The strategy focuses on the quality of meals by providing mothers with information about good nutritional practices to minimise the negative effects of obesity and malnutrition. An important part of the programme is also to educate the adult population about dietary standards.

The survey, conducted by the National Institute of Nutrition, included over 37,000 people from 8,400 households, and covered over 63 provinces and cities nationwide.-VNA