My visit to the National Institute of Nutrition in Vietnam

Three weeks packed full of screaming babies, endless eating, motorbike rides and gorgeous people! Nicole Biggs, Bachelor of Food and Nutrition Sciences and Alfred Deakin Medallist, talks about her visit to the  National Institute of Nutrition in Vietnam funded by Australian Nutrition Trust Fund.

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The work

I spent the majority of my time with the National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) on field trips in the northern mountain regions of Vietnam, helping with the baseline data collection for a food security and nutrition-based intervention that is going to be implemented in three rural provinces during 2017.

My role during this time was to assist with the anthropometric and body composition testing of (over 700!) mother and baby pairs. This involved taking the mothers’ body fat percentages, heights and weights, and the babies’ weights, heights and arm circumferences.  The data collected was the baseline for an intervention that will be implemented over the coming year in three mountain provinces in the north of Vietnam. The ultimate goal of the intervention is to enhance the food security of rural women and to increase iron and zinc in the diets of children to improve their nutrition status. I absolutely loved this, as I got to hold so many adorable babies and actually participate in and contribute to the data collection.

The people

I found that the Vietnamese had such generous hospitality, with people never hesitating to offer me more food, ask me questions and make me feel welcome. Many of the local healthcare workers had limited English speaking skills, however, everyone still made an effort to talk to me, no matter what.

I was constantly amazed at how a whole family could fit onto one motorbike. It would not be unusual to see two adults and two children travelling around on the same bike. I got to ride on the back of a motorbike multiple times in Vietnam, both in the rural villages and in the busy cities, and I absolutely loved it! I was lucky enough to make friends with some lovely girls from NIN who also took me around Hanoi on a motorbike to eat street food (locals know the BEST places!).

The food

Being a huge foodie, I absolutely loved the Vietnamese cuisine. I especially loved getting to sit on tiny stools and eat pho (Vietnamese noodle soup) for breakfast every morning with everyone from NIN. During the field trips we mainly ate share-style food, which involved many dishes of different vegetables, meats, soups and rice. One thing was for sure, we always had so much food that I never left the table hungry. It was on the field trip too that I was first introduced to Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk, which I immediately loved – Vietnam definitely converted me to being a coffee drinker.

Travelling with Vietnamese people meant that I was confronted with many different foods, such as horse, intestines and blood pudding. I wasn’t brave enough to try these things, but found that they were easy enough to avoid when eating. Despite this, I really like how every part of the animal is used in Vietnamese cooking and nothing is wasted – it is very resourceful.

The experience

This was such an invaluable experience and I am extremely grateful to the Australian Nutrition Trust Fund for providing me with this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I was able to travel and eat with the locals, and go to places in rural Vietnam that were largely untravelled by tourists.

I believe that having an overseas experience such as this one is so important to gain an international perspective on health and have a greater awareness of the nutrition problems faced by other parts of the world, such as  the nutrition transition and the double burden of disease (under and over nutrition co-existing). It also allows for the comparison of resources available and government initiatives that are run in order to combat these nutrition issues. This trip has really opened my eyes to the differences between developing and developed nations, and inspired me to further my knowledge regarding public health nutrition. I would recommend it without hesitation to any nutrition students.

Click here to read more about my time in Vietnam, or to find out more about the Australian Nutrition Trust Fund.

 Nicole Biggs

Bachelor of Food and Nutrition Sciences, Deakin University


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