WFP survey finds Bhutanese switching to more carbs and junk over vegetables and protein

There is an increasing trend where people are eating noodles, processed food and other fast food and less vegetables and not enough protein since both rice and potatoes are carbohydrates, said the Head of Office for World Food Program (WFP), Svante Helms during a Bhutan Dialogue session.

As per the WHO survey conducted in 2014 and 2019, 67 percent of the population did not get enough fruits and vegetables in 2014, and in 2019 it is 86 percent, so the trend is going in the wrong direction, said WFP Head Svante.

He said the reason could be because of the processed food, noodle and fast food and it could also be that the price of healthier food is higher.

Now, with COVID-19 pandemic, the prices have gone up by 15 percent and so the poorer parts of the population may transit from healthy food to cheaper fast food and noodles even more.

Under-nutrition has improved and children are getting all the food, but over weight or obesity is increasing not only in Bhutan, but all over the world. This is related to diet.

“We need to find ways to change our eating. It is important both for health and brain development,” said Svante.

He also said stunting among children has decreased from 33 percent to 21 percent, micronutrient deficiency is 45 percent under five and one third of children are anemic meaning they are not getting enough vitamins and minerals that would affect brain development. 33 percent are over-weight and 11 percent of the adult population in the country are obese.

WFP is doing a number of things to change their eating habits. They are working with the ministry of education, ministry of health and ministry of agriculture on the national behavioral change strategy.

He said there is a need to understand what a six-year-old is eating in different parts of the country. He said Bhutan has such a rich culture, so there is a need to understand what and why they are eating, what are the barriers for them to eat healthier food and what can be done to convince them to eat healthier food.

He shared that when he was young he grew up eating spinach because he used to watch a lot of the Popeye show where Popeye grew muscles after eating spinach. So this made him think that the spinach makes him grow stronger. There should be something that triggers the change and the strategy could be rolled out in an engaging way through some TV shows.

WFP is working on a children show called For Children and By Children. It is about how smart and healthy one becomes after drinking milk and what unhealthy processed food does to one’s health. Another way is through digital games similar to Pokémon games. “We need to take some of the best practices from the gaming industries and put that into the education sector, because if children do not find the content interesting then they are not going to engage. We need to think about different ways to engage children in understanding why healthy eating is important.”

He said it is important to make sure that healthy food which is rich in protein are available. Schools can design menus, fetch local food that is cheaper where there are more nutrients and this also helps local farmers.

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