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Use of body mass index in the assessment of adult nutritional status in Vietnam

Effect of low BMI on health status

Tu Giay and Ha Huy Khoi

National Institute of Nutrition, 48 Tang Bat Ho, Hanoi, Vietnam

The authors have used body mass index (BMI: kg/m2) to assess the Vietnamese adult nutritional status and classified the population into different grades of chronic energy deficiency (CED). CED is prevalent in Vietnamese adults (average 40%). The mean value of BMI of the age group 26-40 years is 19.7 but it decreases thereafter except in urban areas. The BMI curve of distribution is different between adults living in rural, urban and mountainous areas. There seems to be a relation between BMI of mothers and the nutritional status of their <5-year-old children. The survey also revealed a relation between maternal BMI and birth weight, and between CED and the health status of the population.


In order to assess the nutritional status of adults, there are indices such as those of Broca, Lorentz and others. Every index has its own value but the comparison between available data is difficult. Recently, to assess the nutritional status of adults, WHO recommended the use of the body mass index (BMI: kg/m2) calculated and classified as in Table 1.

In a report of a Working Party of the International Dietary Energy Consultative Group (James, Ferro-Luzzi & Waterlow, 1988), new criteria were proposed for classifying adult chronic energy deficiency (CED) involving measuring BMI and either energy intake or expenditure expressed in terms of the basal metabolic rate (BMR). Recently a simplified approach using BMI alone was proposed (Ferro-Luzzi et al., 1992). A BMI >18.5 is classified as normal, 17-18.4 as grade:[, 16-16.9 as grade II <16.0 as grade III of CED.

Table 1.







Desirable range




25. 1-30.0





In this paper, we present the use of BMI as an indicator of adult nutritional status. The results were collected from different surveys and studies which have been given arbitrary study numbers. Since the WHO proposal in 1985, we have used BMI in assessing the nutritional status of our adults. Undernutrition is considered to be quite prevalent in our country but more appropriate scientifically based criteria are needed to define the levels of CED in Vietnam.

The first study was of 10 states, covering eight ecological areas, but excluding urban areas (Khoi, 1990). The second study included all ecological regions, but also included Hanoi and Ho-Chi-Minh cities.

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