According to a survey by Bhutan’s health ministry on the risks and prevalence of non-communicable diseases (NCD), more than half the urban population of Bhutan is overweight and about 12 percent citizens are obese.
It is the first such survey after Bhutan witnessed a rise in lifestyle-related diseases in the mid 90s. The survey, along with the national policy and strategic framework on the prevention of NCDs, was done to assess the exposure of Bhutanese population to risk factors such as tobacco, alcohol, physical inactivity and diet.
The survey found that 93.1 percent of the total 204,255 urban population was exposed to at least one of the risk factors, 56.5 percent to two risk factors and 38.4 percent exposed to 3 to 5 risk factors.
The survey was conducted on 2,484 Thimphu residents, aged between 25-74 years. It found that half the urban population was getting only 17 minutes of physical activity a day on an average, and that females were more inactive than men.
The survey also found that 9 percent Thimphu citizens were taking treatment for hypertension, 22.1 percent had high blood pressure and 2.5 percent were diabetic.
Although the survey is Thimphu centric, health officials said that it’s representative of the country’s urban population but not the rural populace. Thimphu was chosen as it has the largest urban population and consists of individuals from across the country.
To prevent and control NCDs in Bhutan, the study recommends policies to promote physical activity, improve food security and access to healthy diet and undertaking intensive health awareness programmes about risks of alcohol and tobacco consumption.
Non-communicable diseases, including lifestyle diseases, account for more than 50 percent of inpatient deaths in Bhutan. From 25,835 cases in 2003, NCD cases rose to 35,875 in 2007 in the Himalayan nation.
The WHO projects that by 2015, there will be 21 percent increase in deaths from NCDs, while communicable diseases will decrease by 16 percent in South East Asia.