Jigmi Wangdi

Access to nutritious meals remains a luxury for many, underscoring the challenges faced by some in securing nourishing sustenance often taken for granted elsewhere.

Conversations with elders tell of a generational shift, where the younger generation occasionally overlooks the significance of food—a stark contrast to an era when having three meals a day was a privilege.

Today, nutrition and food security have become critical concerns, grappling with the triple burden of malnutrition—undernutrition, micronutrient deficiencies, and overnutrition.

Concerted efforts are underway to address these issues.

Nima, a mess-in-charge at Wanakha Central School in Paro, said that there was a positive transformation since 2018. Increased stipends have enabled provision of meat, along with thrice-weekly servings of eggs, fruits, curds, and milk.

Nima’s training through the school feeding programme has contributed to this positive shift.

Recalling times when poor dietary intake led to frequent student illnesses, Nima highlights the improved health of students today. Monthly body mass index measurements indicate a positive trend, with general health showing notable improvement due to better access to nutritious food.

An official from the Health and Welfare Division (HWD) under the Ministry of Education and Skills Development shares advancements in the school feeding programme, citing the supply of fortified rice and oil since 2015.

This initiative, coupled with additional food items, has resulted in a decline in peripheral neuropathy and glossitis outbreaks in schools.

An official from the Health and Welfare Division (HWD) under the Ministry of Education and Skills Development shared that the ministry has started to supply fortified rice and fortified Oil since 2015 along with other seven food items.

Fortified rice, containing eight essential vitamins and minerals, plays a crucial role in preventing nutritional deficiencies.

The official emphasises the quality assurance processes conducted by FCBL and outlines plans to expand the fortification programme to urban schools and ECCD centres, aiming to combat nutritional deficiencies in school-going children. 

“We have improved nutrition in the school feeding programme. As a result, we do not have a record of peripheral neuropathy (when the nerves that are located outside of the brain and spinal cord are damaged) outbreak in schools now and also glossitis (inflammation of the tongue) outbreak has drastically come down,” the official said. 

The official added that fortified rice contains eight vitamins and minerals such as vitamins A, B1, B3, B6, B9, B12, Iron and Zinc to prevent nutritional deficiencies.

“The quality of fortified rice is ensured by FCBL through a series of quality assurance processes including quality checks by BAFRA,” said the official, adding that the ministry has plans to further expand the fortification program to urban schools and ECCD centres to prevent nutritional deficiencies in the school going children.

The Ministry of Health’s report on National Nutrition and Strategy and Action Plan (2021 to 2025) reveals alarming statistics in Bhutan—21 percent of children under five are stunted, 44 percent are anaemic, and 33.5 percent are overweight, with 11.4 percent classified as obese (aged 15-69). Despite progress in reducing stunting since 2010, regional disparities persist.

The report also highlights significant reductions in anaemia prevalence over the past 12 years. Nutritional disparities and the intergenerational transmissibility of malnutrition are emphasised, linking socioeconomically deprived circumstances to the transmission of stunting and obesity.

“This is because there is evidence that shows the intergenerational transmissibility of malnutrition. For example, women of childbearing age living in socioeconomically deprived circumstances have documented the intergenerational transmission of both stunting and obesity. 

Similarly, paternal excessive body weight has also been associated with increased obesity risk in children, the report stated.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock aims to reduce malnutrition and achieve optimal health and well-being, aligning with the 2023 Food and Nutrition Security (FNS) policy.

The Bhutan 2019 STEPS survey reveals gaps in dietary habits, with 86.4 percent not meeting WHO-recommended fruit and vegetable servings, coupled with a high mean salt consumption of 8.3 grams per person per day.

The agricultural sector’s role in sustaining the population by 2034 is outlined, necessitating substantial quantities of various food items. Achieving this goal requires a comprehensive approach, considering per capita consumption. 

Assuming the current per capita consumption, the report highlighted that achieving this goal would require 289,748 metric tonnes (MT) of cereals, 140,160MT of vegetables, pulses, fruits, roots and tubers, mustard, and spices, 82,202MT of milk, 5003 MT of meat, and 198 million eggs annually by 2034.

In an interview with Kuensel last year, World Food Programme’s Deputy Regional Director for Asia and Pacific, Anthea Webb, underscores collaborative efforts with the government.

These efforts ensure that delivered meals are of the highest nutritional value, promoting an understanding and appreciation of healthy diets. 

Webb highlighted measures to store food in a clean and sanitary manner, reducing waste, and emphasises the sourcing of fortified rice and other nutritious items locally.