Positive Deviance: A Solution for Malnutrition in Vietnam?


HANOI, Vietnam — Positive deviance is just one approach to solving malnutrition in Vietnam and other parts of the world. 

How Malnutrition Affects Children

Malnutrition is detrimental to the health of children. As a result of malnutrition, a child’s growth can be stunted. Additionally, both brain damage and physical impairments can arise from malnutrition.

Of course, one must also consider the economic component of malnutrition. Children in poorer households are more likely to suffer from the effects of malnutrition. In Vietnam, children from mountainous areas, along with the Central Highlands and Northern Midlands, are more likely to face hunger.

Malnutrition in Vietnam

While malnutrition has not been eradicated in Vietnam, statistics from recent years are encouraging with malnutrition rates among children under 5 declining to 17 percent in 2010 compared to 65 percent in 1990. According to the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals, “Vietnam has achieved the fastest reduction in child malnutrition in the region with an average annual decline of 1.5 percent.”

Solutions to the Problem of Malnutrition in Vietnam

Undoubtedly, work by service organizations such as UNICEF and CARE International have provided valuable aid to the people of Vietnam. UNICEF works with the Vietnamese government and development programs to find solutions for hunger in Vietnam. CARE uses donations to implement programs that reduce malnutrition.

Additionally, internal policies in Vietnam have resulted in increased agricultural production. Based on this increase in agricultural pursuits, food scarcity in Vietnam has been reduced and the economy has received a subsequent boost.

However, another factor which has positively impacted the reduction in malnutrition may be less widely known. Positive deviance, as a way to combat hunger, was first applied to the community of Thanh Hao. Based on its success, the positive deviance approach spread throughout the country.

The Positive Deviance Approach

The word “deviance” in our society often stirs up negative emotions. However, deviance is not purely negative. Deviance simply means something outside of the norm. Positive deviance looks for instances when those in a community have found a solution to their community’s problem. It examines situations where people are doing well despite their lack of access to adequate resources.

The Borgen Project recently attended a lecture by Arvind Singhal at Campbell University titled, “Positive Deviance in Rural and Underserved Communities.” During his presentation, Singhal provided an examination of the application of positive deviance to fight malnutrition.

Discussing positive deviance, Singhal — who is a lead researcher of positive deviance — stated at the lecture, “Always ask the question, ‘What’s working against all odds? What’s working for the worst-case scenario?’”

For those living in Thanh Hao, foraging provided valuable supplements to the diets of the children. By adding sweet potato roots, crab and shrimp to their everyday meals, malnutrition in Vietnam significantly declined.

In an article authored by Singhal titled Uncovering Innovations that are Visible in Plain Sight, he notes that “Overall, the PD [positive deviance]program helped over 2.2 million people, including over 500,000 Vietnamese children improve their nutritional status.” Positive deviance has the potential to immeasurably improve the lives of numerous others. If applied to other communities in need, similar positive outcomes are likely to result.

The impacts of the positive deviance approach can still be seen in the families of Thanh Hao and the surrounding communities. With positive deviance, the answer to the issue of hunger was found among the people of Vietnam. Positive deviance provides a fresh perspective on solving problems, such as malnutrition in Vietnam.

– Carolyn Newsome
Photo: Unsplash


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