You see it everywhere, every morning before the sun has fully risen or in the late afternoon just after sunset, the grey-haired and wrinkled take to the streets, parks and lakes all over Vietnam dressed in highly visible attire, all there to do some form of exercise. There are some people speed walking, some doing very dynamic stretches, some people are dance-fighting to disco music in a group, others are busy doing laps around a lake on a bicycle or running laps, others are playing badminton or that game where you kick a feathered puck around. If there is a place to swim, like a lake or an ocean, usually a lot of people will be swimming.
It seems like everyone over the age of forty has their own thing to keep themselves active with. You don’t need to spend too much time in Vietnam to notice that there are very few extremely fat people around. Of course you see your fair share of chubby kids and even teenagers, but it genuinely seems like all their fat just falls off at some point during the process of ageing, miraculously.
It obviously doesn’t happen like that. It has to be because at some point most Vietnamese people decide to start doing something to stay regularly active, usually with some friends as part of a small group. It then makes complete sense that Vietnam actually has the lowest adult obesity rate in the world, with only 1% of adults being obese and 6,6% of children. Only Bangladesh shares similar figures, but all I know about what’s going on in Bangladesh is that they like cricket and curry, so I can’t say much about them.
Compare the 1% adult obesity rate in Vietnam to that of China or America, where over 30% of adults are obese and more than 12% of children are obese. America and China are just some of the big names in what has now apparently become a global epidemic. Now, I don’t know when exactly a person goes from being overweight to being obese, but I know it means the whole world is getting fatter by the day. We are eating ourselves useless.
The socio-cultural and socio-economic conditions in a certain place obviously influences the obesity rates, I am well aware of that. I don’t want to get into the politics of being fat here, I just want to call it how I see it. What I see in Vietnam surely has to confirm that being active is the oldest yet most effective trick in the book in terms of not letting yourself get massive. If you look it up you will see that the countries with the highest obesity rates (all Pacific Islands) are also considered to have ‘developing economies’, like Vietnam, but in general it’s a bigger problem in ‘developed’ nations where people inhale fast food daily.
I don’t know much about the technicalities of it all, but I think that the robotic yet cheerful, socially routinised way the Vietnamese oldies get down with exercise must play a big part in the reason that the country is winning in the global war on fatness, surely. In recent years, childhood obesity has become a topic of discussion in Vietnam and you will notice quite a few well-overweight little ones running around to be fair, but at 6,6% it’s still almost at half of the global average. Plus, by the time they get to about thirty years old most the fat should have fallen off anyway.