Meeting nutrient needs costs over four times
Malnutrition remains a major concern in Bhutan.
According to the Fill the Nutrient Gap (FNG) Bhutan report, over a fifth of Bhutanese children under five are stunted.
Going by the report, the rapid increase in overweight and obesity is also an emerging public health concern.
The triple burden of malnutrition is a major obstacle in human capital development. Progress in addressing malnutrition has been uneven, with worsening nutrition outcomes among households in rural areas and in the lower wealth quintiles.
To prevent all forms of malnutrition, people should have access to and be able to afford healthy, nutrient-dense, and diverse diets.
The FNG report was spearheaded by the World Food Programme (WFP) in collaboration with the Ministry of Health.
According to the report, about three in 10 households (27 percent) are not able to afford to meet nutrient-rich needs.
A nutritious diet, on average, costs at least Nu 436 a day for a five-person household—Nu 13,285 a month.
While energy-dense staples such as rice are cheap and plentiful, nutritious foods such as vegetables, fruits, and animal-source foods are out of reach for many.
The report states that dietary patterns and suboptimal food choices make nutritious diets less affordable.
The supply chain disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent global food crisis have exposed the vulnerability of the food system and continue to threaten the progress of nutrition outcomes, the report says.
The report highlights that adolescent girls and pregnant and lactating women are especially vulnerable to malnutrition. Targeted interventions, it says, can make an essential contribution to closing the nutrient gap.
Timely monitoring of the cost and affordability of nutritious diets, coupled with a robust nutrition information system, is essential to support coordinated actions to eliminate malnutrition in the country.
To close the nutrient gap, the report recommends introducing multiple micronutrient supplements for nutritionally vulnerable groups, including adolescent girls, nuns, and pregnant and lactating women.
The report suggests identifying targeted interventions using alternative modalities to meet the remaining nutrient needs of vulnerable women and children in the first 1,000 days of their lives.
Also, the report recommends strengthening infant and young-child-feeding practices, including the promotion of exclusive breastfeeding for children under six months and complementary feeding for children six to 23 months.
Further to that, the report recommends developing national food-based dietary guidelines and strengthening nutritional surveillance, monitoring systems, and technical capacity. It includes investing in rice fortification infrastructure and capacity to supply to all the schools, including private schools, day schools that are currently without meal programmes, and monasteries and nunneries.
To improve the nutritional quality of school meals, the report recommends reviewing the adequacy of the stipends for students and revising the basket of centrally-procured non-perishable commodities.
The recommendations include improving school infrastructure, strengthening farm-to-school programme, promoting market-led production of nutritious crops and livestock, and diversification of agriculture in home gardens and commercial farms, among others.