Vietnam: food for thought
Mrs Bien, 23 years old, lives in Thai Nguyen which is among the provinces that have the highest malnutrition rate in Vietnam. 27.2% of children under 5 years old are affected by stunting and 18.5% of them are affected by extreme weight loss. (UNICEF, 2009-2010) This young mother of a 4 year old boy attended a training session as part of an Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) project conducted by AEA Vietnam. “I am glad that I could learn so much about nutrition and children’s rights,” she says.
According to the World Food Programme, malnutrition is caused not only, and sometimes not even primarily, by a lack of food. Even when families eat enough, their diets may be lacking in certain nutrients so they can still end up being malnourished. “The main reason contributing to this high rate of malnutrition is the lack of knowledge and bad practices by parents and families”, explains Tu Nguyen, AEA Vietnam director. Education can help to tackle the problem by teaching parents how to protect their children from malnutrition.
Health, hygiene, nutrition and education
AEA Vietnam project in Thai Nguyen adopts an integrated approach that takes into consideration four key dimensions – health, hygiene, nutrition and education – that are interrelated in many ways. “Education is as important as receiving food,” added Tu Nguyen. Nutrition is not just a matter of the general availability of food but also about knowing good health and nutrition practices at home. “In Thai Nguyen, there are old traditions and practices, such as not giving milk to children, not feeding children with fish when they have diarrhea, or washing hands without soap. Parents need to understand what is causing malnutrition.”
As part of this project, Mrs Bien learnt how to cook for her child: “I learnt how to combine different nutrients in one meal. I also add a variety of dishes to my meals. Before, I didn’t know that combinations of nutrients could have an influence on my child’s development.”
Thanks to the political commitment of the local partners, which remarkably improved nutrition, the project successfully tackled child malnutrition through parenting education in the province. AEA Vietnam provided 32 ECCE trainings with more than 900 attendees including parents, community development workers and local authorities during 2013 and 2014. It benefitted more than 1,300 children under the age of 6.
Adequate nutrition enables children to learn
Good nutrition habits should start during pregnancy. Then, from birth to entry into primary school, good nutrition practices influence children’s health, well-being, growth and survival. A low nutritional and health status makes children less able to enrol in school. It also hinders their cognitive development and capacity to learn. “Malnutrition seriously harms children’s chances of learning,” summarizes Tu Nguyen.
Some studies demonstrate the investment in learning – through strengthened health and education systems – providing long-term benefits for individuals and societies (UNESCO, EFA Global Monitoring Report, 2012). Investing in nutrition at an early age has considerable economic benefits, improving learning, job prospects and earning. Early childhood education lays the foundations for positive social and economic outcomes in adulthood.
“I am so happy to see my son growing up healthy!” concluded Mrs Bien. Education of parents reduces the risk of their children relapsing into malnutrition, and offers the hope that this knowledge will also be passed forward to future generations.