Persistent malnutrition in ethnic minority communities of Vietnam: issues and options for policy and interventions

Because malnutrition in early life significantly affects the physical and mental development of children, addressing malnutrition is fundamental to the development of Vietnam’s human capital. Economic development of the nation depends on the strength, resilience, and intelligence of its workforce. Governments dedicate millions of dollars annually to health and education, recognizing that individual losses in productivity may run as high as 10 percent of lifetime earnings and that as much as 11 percent of GDP could be lost each year in Asia and Africa due to undernutrition. The ethnic minority groups living mainly in the northern midlands and in the mountainous and central highlands regions are consistently more undernourished than the Kinh majority. Despite decreases in stunting, the prevalence of stunting among ethnic minority children is still twice that in the Kinh ethnic group. There has been an overall decline in wasting of 1.7 percent between 2000 and 2011, although only the richest quintile showed a significant reduction (3.4 percent). These data, along with an overall decrease in the prevalence of wasting and stunting, indicate an increase in nutrition inequality between 2000 and 2011. Moreover, it is noteworthy that the ethnic minority groups constitute the majority of the undernourished populations in most of the 10 provinces with the highest rates of stunting among children under 5 years old. This analytical report describes the very high rates of malnutrition among ethnic minority populations in Vietnam. It assesses the determinants and causes, using a causal framework and systems analysis; reviews current commitments and policies directed at reducing disparities in malnutrition; examines implementation of nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive interventions, particularly those that require multisectoral coordination and collaboration; draws conclusions based on the analysis; and recommends how policies and programs can be strengthened to reduce inequities and fulfill the economic potential of all ethnic groups.