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Vietnam's Obesity Rates Increased the Fastest in Southeast Asia in 5 Years

Between 2010 and 2014, the country's number of obese individuals rose 38%.

Thanks to rising wealth and changing diet preferences, the rate of obesity is increasing fast in Vietnam, according to data from Fitch Solutions Macro Research, reported by Bloomberg. In the period of 2010–2014, the number of obese Vietnamese increased by 38%, the most in Southeast Asia and among the highest in the world. The study categorizes anyone with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of over 25 as obese.

Vietnam ties with South Korea at 38%, followed by Indonesia (33%), Malaysia and Thailand (both 27%). Outside of Asia, obesity rates rose by 10% in the UK and 8% in the US.

Despite the worrying increase, only 3.6% of the Vietnamese population are obese, the lowest in ASEAN and less than in Malaysia (13.3%) and Indonesia (5.7%). In the US, for example, 33.7% citizens are classified as obese. A different study in 2017 claimed only 1% of Vietnamese are obese, which is the lowest in the world. It put the global rate at 1 in 10 people.

The Fitch report says: "The improving economic standards in the region have brought about lifestyle changes, which in turn have led to a shift to more unhealthy diets. Food of low nutritional value is more easily and widely available due to its low cost and the introduction and adoption of Western dietary habits.” 

The issue is most prominent among young people in Vietnam. Authorities recently revealed that 29% of primary school students in Vietnam are overweight or obese. They cite a lack of exercise, in addition to changing eating habits, as causes of the problem. New education programs and policies have been suggested to combat the problem in Vietnam, while other countries, such as Malaysia, have put a tax on sugary beverages. 

Obesity rates are of concern due to the increase in healthcare costs and various associated illnesses, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some types of cancer.

[Photo via Nikkei Asian Review]

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