Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Vietnam: Rise of the New Fast Food Nation

As Vietnam enjoys unprecedented economic growth, its people have discovered a taste for high-calorie, high-fat, Westernised food - and are beginning to suffer the consequences.

Outside the Rex hotel in the centre of Saigon - the name by which most residents still refer to Ho Chi Minh City - the evening rush hour is a scene of motorised pandemonium. Tens of thousands of scooters sweep along the six-lane highways, blithely ignoring the rules of the road, like herds of migrating wildebeest across the Serengeti plains.

As darkness falls, clusters of tiny plastic tables and stools spread across the pavements - improvised street-side restaurants to feed the armies of office workers. The acrid smell of pigs' trotters seared over charcoal braziers beside pans of meat bubbling on spirit burners fills the humid night air.

The public health message was to eat less and exercise more but this was hard to get across to people raised in the shadow of hunger.

Dr Anil Kapur, vice-president, World Diabetes FoundationThe transformation of this war-ravaged rural economy into a booming industrial power is happening at astonishing speed. Ten years ago, the bicycle was the dominant mode of transport. Now it is the motor scooter. Back then crisps, cola and ice-cream were novelties and fast-food restaurants featured only in Western magazines. Now they are part of the everyday scene. Vietnam, like its neighbour China to the north, is experiencing double-digit economic growth. Cranes festoon the skyline, factories complain of a shortage of labour - 20,000 extra workers are needed in the south of the country - and people are being drawn in growing numbers from the country to the towns.

But progress has a price. Across the Far East, growing urbanisation, rapid industrialisation and increasing obesity associated with decreased physical activity is fuelling an epidemic that has killed as many as AIDS but has received a fraction of the attention.

The disease is diabetes, and its incidence is accelerating around the world. From 170 million affected in 2000, doctors predict the total will rise to 370 million by 2025, leading to an epidemic of amputations and blindness, the two commonest effects of the condition. Developing nations will be hardest hit; they bear 90 per cent of the burden but have only 10 per cent of the resources to deal with it.

Full Story - Common


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