Non-communicable diseases (NCD) are already one of the major public health issues in the country today. While we look at the basics still, we seem to be forgetting or missing the real picture. Lack of nutrition, according to some studies, is no more a problem. Overnutrition is.
Overnutrition is overconsumption of nutrients and food to the point at which health is adversely affected. Overnutrition can develop into obesity which increases the risk of serious health conditions, including cardiovascular disease, hypertension, cancer and type-2 diabetes, among others.
NCD is a health challenge that is growing and we need to be alarmed. According to the World Health Organisation, the problems of overnutrition are increasing even in countries where hunger is prevalent.
Going by the first Global School-Based Student Health Survey, over-nutrition is a major problem among Bhutanese adolescents with about 11.4 percent being overweight and two percent obese. What this tells us is that our lifestyle change is contributing to the rise in health problems that can otherwise be easily controlled.
Affluence is a problem, but it is not the lone factor that leads to dietary habits that are risky. Reckless consumerism is the other that plays a significant role. Increased availability and consumption of sugary drinks and fast food are exacerbating the problems. For example, about 40 percent of the respondents, who constituted mainly students, reported that they drank carbonated soft drinks more than once a day. And alcohol is another problem that is pretty much freely available in our society.
The study is critically important for Bhutan because it can and, must, effectively and strategically guide policymakers and stakeholders to further promote the health and well-being of adolescents in Bhutan. We now not only have information about select risk behaviours among adolescents to support youth health programmes and policies in Bhutan, but also accurate data on health behaviours and protective factors among the young.
There is a lot we can do. Strengthen policies and programmes to control tobacco, alcohol, doma and pan masala use focusing on adolescents, for example, and promote healthy diet focusing on improved food diversity in schools. Strengthening the school parent/guardian education awareness programme to address the health and behavioural needs of the children is the other. This means changing the mindset of our people, especially of the young.
Not all innovations are good. The lesson has to be on focusing on things that are critically necessary for survival and success. Choices that we are bombarded with are often meaningless.