That diabetes and hypertension continue to be the most prevalent non-communicable or the so-called life style diseases is not a surprise. What is astonishing, though, is that despite decades of awareness, policy interventions, and programmes aimed at steering Bhutanese away from these health risks, we are still wasting resources and lives to combat them.

The reports are alarming. Hypertension, commonly known as high blood pressure, among Bhutanese increased to 30 percent from 27.2 in 2019. Health officials are ruing that the increase did not align with their goals – to lower it. They should not. The health ministry and successive governments have done their share in reducing, if not controlling, life style diseases.

To address the growing concern, numerous programmes were put in place, starting from preventing, screening, management and providing care. Some of the programmes, like the Diabetes Prevention and Care Programme, dates back to 2005. If it is going out of hand, the people are not cooperating or other policies are not in line with the programmes. As doctors often remind us, the patient holds some responsibility for their own cure.

If the increase is attributed to a rise in risk factors such as overweight, high blood pressure, unhealthy diet and sedentary lifestyle among the population, not many of us are putting efforts to turn the tide. Or perhaps it is the development in medicine and services that can keep patients alive through dialysis or kidney transplants. But this is a costly affairs when healthcare, including referrals, are free.

Or is the so-called progress taking a toll on our health. If the disposable income even among the average Bhutanese has increased, our dietary habits are poorer. We are spoilt for choice of food. Junk food, which was once a weekly treat, has become a habit. At every nook or corner of the capital, even in small towns, junk food outlets are numerous. The favourite snack among many is the oily chili chops or the payjees (fried snacks), some of them fried in repeatedly used oil.

On the other hand, consumption of fruits and vegetables among Bhutanese is declining at a huge rate. Some blame the price, especially imported fruits. While it is true that fruits are affordable only when local produce is available, fruits are unaffordable only when you buy it for the family. For someone who chew two Nu 50 packets of doma a day or drink two bottles of beer every evening, a basket full of fruits a week should be cheap.

Those aware of our rich food are changing. If they are out walking, jogging or cycling, the favourite suja is only a Sunday breakfast specialty. We cannot burn the salt and butter in it if after breakfast we are staying home watching TV or gossiping until lunch. Many are switching from rice to rotis, kharang or quinoa.

Non-communicable diseases were recognised as a problem a long time ago. There are policies and programmes in place. If these interventions are to work, we should understand and collaborate. Simple things like not damaging the public open air gym or switching to a healthier diet could help.