Inadequate dietary diversity, lack of care during pregnancy and breastfeeding practices in Bhutan are causing stunting, wasting, underweight and anemia in children.

While discussing the nutrition for children in the ongoing early childhood care and development (ECCD) programme in Thimphu, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Bhutan’s chief for health, nutrition and WASH section, Dr Vandana Joshi, said the national nutrition survey (NNS) 2015 states that only 12 percent of children receive food with minimum acceptable diet.

She also said that less than one in five parents feed children with adequate dietary diversity. “There is minimum food shortage or food insecurity in Bhutan but lack of food diversity.”

The NNS 2015 showed that the number of stunting among children below five dropped from 33.5 percent in 2010 to 21.2 percent in 2015. Similarly, the number of cases of anemia in children aged six to 23 months dropped from 80.6 percent in 2003 to 43.8 percent in 2015.

However, the percentage is high by international standards.

The survey showed that 77.7 percent of women in the eastern region breastfed their children while only 33.8 percent breastfed in the west.

The report also stated that most mothers with secondary education breastfed their children, followed by non-educated mothers and the least among mothers with primary education.

Dr Vandana Joshi said that the intensity of intervention is critical. “Malnutrition can have an effect on the developing brain and the lack of nutrition at a certain time is irreversible.”

In her presentation, she said that the NNS report also revealed that the poor and the rural area group in the country showed maximum stunting, wasting and underweight rate. Although the percentage for the wealthiest category is the minimum, the rate of the lower, middle and upper class is more than 18 percent.

The percentage of stunting, wasting and underweight is the highest in the eastern region of Bhutan.

The participants in the programme suggested that nutrition data should be considered while framing policies to address the nutrition issues.

The ECCD week, organised by the education ministry, was themed ‘Towards an integrated approach to ECCD programming’. The five-day program began on September 4 with support from UNICEF.

Phurpa Lhamo