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We may be faring better than some countries when it comes to childcare and development but that is relative. And so it matters.

At least one in less than three Bhutanese children under the age of five is not growing well. This is according to UNICEF’s state of the world’s children report 2019. Bhutan could be facing an emergency.

Malnutrition—consequences of poor diet and feeding practices—has been a problem in Bhutan for a long time. Stunting (short stature for age), wasting (low weight for height) and overweight are its manifestations. Nearly half of all deaths in children under five are attributed to undernutrition.

Tackling the triple burden of malnutrition—undernutrition, hidden hunger, and overweight—must be expedited. Only about one in 10 Bhutanese children receives adequate mix of nutrients every day. Because malnutrition affects children’s physical and cognitive development, the long-term implications of now acting now will be far-reaching.

Global picture becomes important to understand the real threat of malnutrition. Close to 150 million children under five were stunted and almost 50 million were wasted in the world. In South Asia, 58.7 million children under five were stunted and 25.9 million were wasted according to the report.

In Bhutan micronutrient deficiencies are a major challenge. One in three adolescent girls and two in five children below five are anaemic. Iron deficiency is the common cause. Iron deficiency reduces children’s ability to learn and anaemia increases women’s risk of death during or shortly after childbirth.

Globalisation, rapid urbanisation and resulting are driving unprecedented negative changes in the nutrition situation of children around the world. Not to mention the contributions of humanitarian crises and climate shocks.

There is today a need to understand the unique nutritional needs of children at every stage of life. But that is just a part of the bigger picture. We need to move ahead with because climate change is beginning to affect the way we grow our food. Changing weather patterns is hitting the agriculture sector the most. Worse is yet to come.

The real problem is that we do not even have clear data on the children’s vulnerability, which would otherwise give us the opportunity to design timely and appropriate interventions. Stunting and wasting is an economic burden for a country and has the potential to widen inequality in the society. Our problem is not scarcity of food. We lack nutrition knowledge.  

Awareness programmes are all we have but we need to be more innovative. Here is the national imperative: if parents don’t come to health centres, health advisories should be taken to them.

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