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School milk program underway

Released at: 13:22, 17/11/2018

School milk program underway

Photos: Viet Tuan

A soon-to-be-nationwide program providing milk to every school child in Vietnam is now in full swing.

by Le Diem

Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s two largest cities, will invest some VND4.2 trillion ($180 million) and VND1.2 trillion ($51.4 million), respectively, in a School Milk Program at all kindergartens and primary schools from 2018 to 2020. Nearly 4 million kids in Hanoi and 500,000 in Ho Chi Minh City are expected to receive milk every single day. 

Milk for all kids

The program is a part of “School Milk - For Vietnam’s Stature”, a national program launched by the Ministry of Education and Training and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.
The launch aims at implementing Decision No. 1340/QD-TTg in 2016 from the Prime Minister approving a “school milk program to improve nutritional standards and contribute to improving the physique of children in kindergartens and elementary schools by 2020.”

The average height of Vietnamese men and women is 163.7 cm and 153 cm; shorter than the World Health Organization (WHO)’s standards by 13.1 cm and 10.7 cm. Vietnam has also been listed by WHO in the top 20 countries with the highest number of children exhibiting stunted growth. About 25 per cent of Vietnamese children, or 1.9 million, are on average 10 cm shorter than their Asian peers due to malnourishment. The average height has risen by only 1 cm to 1.5 cm over the past ten years, due mainly to continued poor eating habits, according to health experts. Vietnam has set a goal of boosting the average height of its population by 4 cm within the next decade. By 2030, the average Vietnamese man will be 168.5 cm tall and the average woman 157.5 cm.

Milk and dairy products are present in all the nutrient towers of many countries and school milk programs have been applied around the world, according to Professor Bui Thi Nhung from the National Institute of Nutrition. Japan has achieved the most success in applying school milk programs since 1954, with 200 ml of milk provided to each child each day. Forty years on, the average height has increased 10 cm and the country boasts among the highest life expectancy in the world. 

Vietnam’s milk program therefore aims to improve the nutrition and stature of children in kindergartens and primary schools, especially those in poor and remote areas, reduce the prevalence of malnutrition, improve their health and physical strength, and contribute to human resources development in the future. It will also consult with and educate parents on the role of nutrition for children. 

Each child receives 180 ml box of milk every day at school, for five boxes a week. The price of the milk is subsidized by 30-100 per cent by the government and dairy enterprises, depending on the financial status of each child’s family. 

With over 12 million children aged from two to 12, this will require some 400 million liters of fresh milk annually when the program goes national. Vietnam has nearly 300,000 dairy cows providing some 800 million liters of fresh milk each year, according to the latest data from the Department of Livestock Production at the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. 

Conflicting opinions

Most parents in Hanoi are supportive of the program while a few have concerns. 

After receiving a registration from to join in the program at Kim Lien Public Primary School and Trung Tu Public Kindergarten in Dong Da district, where her kids study, Ms. Bui Thu said the program was great as it is subsidized 50 per cent and helps her save on milk spending. “Milk is very good for the health and stimulates height growth in kids, as proved by a lot scientific research,” she said. “I give my kids milk daily and it’s not a small outlay. I have high expectations they will be taller than my husband and me. Both of us are a bit shorter than the average. One of the reasons is that we didn’t receive enough milk or nutrition when we were small.” She also likes the program because every child, whether from poor or rich families, will receive milk. 

Ms. Tu Anh, Principal of Pooh’s House Kindergarten, a private kindergarten in Ba Dinh district, said the program was a major effort from the government. From 80 to 90 per cent of parents have registered their children to participate in the program when it is applied at the kindergarten. It already gives children milk every day, which will be replaced by the national program and help the kindergarten save money, she added.

While also expressing a positive view of the program, many others, however, question the quality of the milk, as there was no information on the registration form about the milk or its supplier. “This program is good but we need to know the origin of the milk and the expiry date,” said Ms. Thu Ha, who has kids at Pooh’s House. “It’s fine if it comes from big local brands like Vinamilk or TH true Milk. My kids drink Vinamilk every day.” She added that she registered her kids but would see the brand and the quality of the milk and then decide whether to continue.
Meanwhile, Ms. Huyen Huong, another mother of a child at Pooh’s House, chose not to participate, saying that most parents in big cities today acknowledge the role of milk for children and could afford it, so the program was better applied in the countryside. “My son and daughter drink milk from Australia’s Devondale, which is very good quality,” she said. “It’s not necessary for them to drink more at school.” 

Responding to the concern of parents in Hanoi, Mr. Chu Xuan Dung, Director of the city’s Department of Education and Training, said Hanoi has over 1,100 kindergartens and nearly 800 primary schools but not all of them provide milk to students. Though many parents could afford milk for their kids there are those who simply can’t. 
The department opened bids for the milk supply on October 10 and three companies responded. A separate consultant company is checking their profiles. The Ministry of Health will also check and manage the quality of milk provided in the program, which is required to have more Vitamin D, iron, and calcium. The company winning the bid will be announced to the public within 45 days of October 10, or late November. 

Success seen

The milk program was piloted in 2016 in northern Nghe An province, one of the poorest parts of the country, and will continue until 2020. It subsidized 100 per cent of the cost for children from poor families and 30-50 per cent for others, depending on their financial status, with the TH Group being the supplier and donor. 

The TH School MILK used in Nghe An is wholly processed from fresh milk, with specialized formulas prepared by the National Nutrition Institute under scientific consultancy from Dr. Frank Wieringa, a renowned French nutrition expert, according to the group. The milk is supplemented with micro-nutritious substances based on scientific analysis, including calcium, iron, zinc, iodine, magnesium, folic acid, and a mixture of Vitamin A, C, and D, and Group B, which all help improve kids’ height, eyesight, and concentration ability.

The program has been warmly received by local parents, many of whom struggle to make ends meet and can’t afford to buy milk for their kids every day, Mr. Nguyen Xuan Hong, Deputy Director of the provincial Department of Health, told local media.

More than 300,000 children have been registered to receive milk at kindergartens and primary schools to date, accounting for 69 per cent of students in Nghe An. Thanks to the program, malnutrition rates among pre-school children and primary pupils have been cut by 2.85 per cent and 2.78 per cent, respectively, compared to 2010.

The program was then applied last year at other cities and provinces, such as central Da Nang city, northern Bac Ninh province, and southern Dong Nai province, while other localities are preparing to implement the program to reach 2020 targets. 

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