How healthy are we

With the Losar, just recently over, many Bhutanese are reeling from the calorie shock to their bodies – thanks to the rich food and drinks, and the consequent weight gain.

Given Bhutan’s rapid socio-economic development, increasing number of Bhutanese households enjoy Losar on a daily basis with increased meat and junk food consumption.

This is coupled with a near lack of exercise and physical activity – visible from the very few morning and evening walkers to short-term gym memberships.

Bhutan is undergoing a rapid health revolution – for the worse stemming primarily from what we eat or consume, and it is affecting everyone from the young to the old.

There are reliable facts and research that show the correlation between high consumption of red meat to various medical problems including cancer. Despite enjoying more variety in our food basket, as compared to our ancestors, the craze with red meat is only increasing – as the import figures for beef and pork show. The quality of the meat and the sanitary standards in slaughter houses across the border are also highly suspect.

The other major health risk, especially for the youth, is the explosion in the consumption of junk food.

Here again, there are thousands of research findings and papers by reputable international agencies to show that virtually all categories of junk food are bad for you and are linked to various diseases.

The high content of fat, sugars, salts, preservatives and the process of preparation come with multiple negative health effects that affect virtually every part of your body.

Though it may be a taboo subject – it is also time to really research and look into the long-term health effect of a our ‘typical traditional Bhutanese diet’ with its high focus on meat, fat, carbohydrates, cheese and hot chili peppers. In the past, a rich diet was a luxury for most households and the work output of people allowed them to burn off the extra calories and fat. Today, the very same diet combined with our sedentary lifestyle, maybe creating health problems.

Bhutan’s hospitals, as medical reports point out, are seeing an increasing number of lifestyle- related diseases. Diseases, virtually unheard of before like, diabetes, blood pressure, etc., are affecting an increasing segment of our population.

The solution to the above problems will have to come at multiple levels. The government needs to recognize the depth of the problem and formulate policies accordingly.

There needs to be more awareness and advocacy on the health consequences of eating certain food groups and the ill effects of a sedentary lifestyle. The public should be made aware of the harmful effects of junk food. This should not be too difficult, given our small population, and the penetration of the media and telecommunications. Restaurants should also be monitored and checked for any harmful ingredients used in their cooking.

The government and various local governments will have to ensure that there are enough public spaces created so that people, instead of sitting in front of the TV or a computer after office hours, can come out for recreation.

Bhutan can do a lot more in addressing what is fast becoming Bhutan’s biggest health challenge – otherwise the alternative will be to pay a very high health, social and economic cost.

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” Hippocrates

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