In Viet Nam the nutritional status of children is poor and the country has the highest malnutrition rate among countries in the region. The prevalence of underweight among children under 5 years of age is 40%, that of stunting is 36% and that of wasting is 10%. According to WHO criteria these rates indicate important public health problems.
Adults are also affected by malnutrition as indicated by the proportion of individuals with a BMI under 18.5 kg/m2 which is of approximately 40% for both men and women. The average BMI value was similar (19.1 kg/m2) for both sexes and only a negligible proportion of the population was overweight or obese.
Food consumption data show no improvement in terms of energy intake and a slight increase in the intake of protein and lipid, between 1990 and 1995. However, there are important differences in food patterns between Highlands, Midlands and Mountain areas and the problem of food insecurity seems to be more important in the Mountainous and Midlands rural areas.
During the last decade, there has been a very important improvement in the control of micronutrient deficiencies. In the 80's, the prevalence of xerophtalmia was 0.7 % among children under five years, indicating a high prevalence of vitamin A deficiency. Following the implementation of a National supplementation programme, the prevalence of night-blindness was reduced from 0.37% in 1985-88 to 0.05% among children under six years in 1994. A great success was also achieved in controlling Iodine Deficiency Disorders through Universal Iodization Salt. Nevertheless, Iron Deficiency Anemia remains a burden that affects a large segment of the population: 45% of children under 5 years of age, 40% of non-pregnant women and 53% pregnant women are anaemic.
Based on national statistics for food availability, according to the FAO indicator of undernourishment, the proportion of the population whose energy requirements were not satisfied was 25% in 1969-71 and in 1990-92 but this value was higher during wartime.
Control programs for infectious diseases, a better distribution of the food available, a better access to Public Health Services as well as a reduction in the under five mortality rate are required to improve the overall nutritional situation.