Youth in Bhutan are found to be suffering from nutrient-related health conditions including anaemia, obesity, malnutrition, or micro-nutrition deficiencies. According to Fill the Nutrient Gap or FNG Report 2022, these health conditions are a result of poor dietary habits due to the consumption of junk foods that lack nutrients. To prevent children from catching these health issues, the education and skills development ministry has prohibited junk foods in school canteens since March last year.
Fill the Nutrient Gap Report 2022 found that one-third of school-going adolescent girls are anaemic and 1 out of 10 school-going children are overweight.
This, according to nutritionists, is because of poor dietary habits.
Nutritionists say overcooking leafy vegetables and adding cheese to green vegetables can result in the loss of micronutrients, particularly heat-sensitive vitamins and minerals. Additionally, drinking tea with meals which is common among Bhutanese can deter the absorption of important nutrients such as iron and vitamin B12.
The nutritionists, therefore, recommend eating appropriate rice portions, whole grains, and vegetables. It is also recommended to reduce reliance on cooking salt by using natural seasonings, moderating the addition of sugar, particularly in tea and pastries, eating low-fat meats, and consuming nutrient-rich food.
A few parents BBS talked to expressed that they try to provide nutrient-rich meals to their children.
“I don’t give much salt to my children. According to the doctors’ advice, we give less salt and a lot of vegetables. Even to infants below the age of six months, I do not feed solid food nor water,” said Lhaden, a parent.
“I always advise my children according to the health ministry’s public interest advertisements shown on television. We also limit our children’s consumption of junk foods which are considered unhealthy. Instead, we feed them nutritious food such as spinach, carrot, and other organic vegetables,” said Sonam Gyeltshen, another parent.
Meanwhile, the education and skills development ministry has issued a notification calling school authorities to prohibit school canteens from providing junk food.
In addition, the ministry has trained every cook and mess in charge of schools in twelve districts to provide meals with a variety of vegetables.
Similarly, the ministry also sent School Meal Planner software to schools in twelve districts, excluding the schools under thromdes without boarding facilities.
The software helps plan weekly meals for the schools to provide nutrient-rich meals.
“It gives us the idea of what should be fed to children including vegetable contents, and what type of micronutrients. So, it’s well calculated actually. Then we are also enhancing the school agriculture programmes, especially to increase variety in the food baskets in the schools by making their vegetable gardens,” said Karma Wangchuk, the chief of the Health and Wellbeing Division.
The ministry says such initiatives and providing fortified rice have improved the BMI of students in boarding schools. However, day scholars were mostly found to fall under the unhealthy BMI range.
To reach out to the parents, the Education and Skills Development Ministry has also created a Facebook page called School Health and Nutrition Bhutan to inform the public about the importance of providing nutrients to their children.
To ensure all Bhutanese youth are fed nutrient-rich diets, the ministry plans to extend the School Meal Planner software throughout the country.
Edited by Phub Gyem