Many elderly people are suffering from malnutrition but unaware of the symptoms of the condition, according to the results of a recent study.
The first of its kind in the country, the study found that as many as 20 per cent of middle-aged people in Viet Nam and 40 per cent of elderly people suffer from malnutrition.
Conducted by the National Institute of Nutrition during the first three months of this year, the study involved 700 people aged from 40 to 79 in eight cities and provinces across the country.
Adults were malnourished if their body mass index, calculated as a person's weight divided into the square of their height, was under 18.5, said Ngo Ha Phuong, a doctor from the institute.
Phuong said a person's nutrition could start deteriorating once they reached middle age as this was the time when a person's digestive system began to work less efficiently, absorbing fewer nutrients from food.
Moreover, the decline also led to weaker immunity, said Phuong.
People can become malnourished when they lose weight without a clear reason, their muscles become soft and they become increasingly forgetful.
Malnourished people lose their appetite, have difficulties related to digestion and suffer from constipation. Their resistance to diseases also declines and they can therefore easily become ill. If they contract chronic diseases such as rheumatism, hepatitis and asthma, their conditions can deteriorate seriously.
Nguyen Thi Loan, 54, from Ha Noi's Dong Da District, said that while she had lost six kilos in the past year and her muscles had become soft, she thought this was a normal part of old age, and not malnutrition.
"Malnutrition is a children's disease, and not one associated with adults," she said.
Meanwhile, Nguyen Van Kiet, 69, from Thanh Xuan District, said he suffered from constipation and forgetfulness.
"I may have a digestive disease, but I have enough meals a day with different kinds of food so I don't think that I was suffering from malnutrition," he said.
To prevent malnutrition, both the middle-aged and elderly are advised to ensure a balanced diet that includes plenty of vegetables and fruits, and fibre to support the digestive system. They should limit the amount of sweet foods such as sugar and confectionery, according to Phuong.
People are also advised to eat food that is high in calcium, such as fish, crab and shrimp, while exercising for at least 30 minutes a day is also recommended.
If people lose their appetite, they can divide their meals into several small meals to supply enough nutrition to their body.
Phuong said that the institute would join hands with investors and local elderly associations, initially in the eight cities and provinces, to deliver leaflets on adult malnutrition in a bid to raise awareness on the issue among elderly people.
In 2010, 9.4 per cent of Vietnamese people were over 60 years of age. Last year the figure increased to 9.9 per cent and now it stands at 10.5 per cent. By 2025 the country is predicted to have an ageing population, according to the General Office for Population Family Planning, making malnutrition among adults increasingly important.
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