A pilot project aimed at promoting healthy eating habits among school children and adolescents in the country was launched in Paro, yesterday. The Social Behaviour Change project seeks to address prevalent issues such as low dietary diversity, high consumption of nutrient-poor staples and processed junk foods, and inadequate intake of nutrient-rich fruits, vegetables, and animal-source foods.
The Ministry of Education and Skills Development has partnered with the World Food Programme, the Ministry of Health, and the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock for the pilot project.
The pilot phase of the campaign will be implemented in 15 schools across the Thimphu and Chhukha Districts from July through October 2023.
This initial phase aims to evaluate the reception and effectiveness of the campaign among students, school staff, and parents.
The campaign focuses on promoting five key healthy behaviours, which include diversifying the diet, reducing salt consumption, eating meals on time, reducing the consumption of processed junk foods high in sugar and salt, and increasing the intake of nutrient-rich animal-sourced foods.
“Diet habits are drastically changing, and it is not changing for the good. When we did a bit of study among the school going children, we found out that there are lot of issues of micronutrient deficiency. For that matter, we really want to encourage consuming food that are produced in the country and encourage healthy dietary habit among the school going children because they are the change agents for the future,” said Karma Wangchuk, Chief of School Health and Wellbeing Division.
Thirty teachers, two from each of the pilot schools, will undergo training to manage the programme’s implementation within their schools.
They will also provide training to other school staff members on relevant elements of the social behaviour change project.
“Programmes like this should have come a long time back because children like eating junks and once it becomes a habit then it is very difficult to change. Although, for us, and youth above the age of 18 it is much late for them. However, to build on the proper habit I think it is the right time,” said Chimi Dem, a teacher from Changangkha Middle Secondary School in Thimphu.
“For instance, if we teach children how improper intake of sugar and salt are the main cause of diabetes and hypertension and some of the non-communicable diseases, then they will be mindful and will prevent such non-communicable diseases in the future. There are ten main focuses through this project, which are all play-way methods. So, it will be easy to convince the children and benefit us all,” said Yadhu Prasad, a teacher from Tsimalakha Middle Secondary School in Chhukha.
A follow-up survey will be conducted in October to measure changes in food consumption behaviour.
The survey results will help determine if the project can be scaled up to schools nationwide in the future.
The Social Behaviour Change project is funded by the Korea International Cooperation Agency.