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 Monday, 23 December, 2002, 00:02 GMT
Tongan King leads fitness revolution
Apples
A healthy eating regime helped the king lose weight
The decision of the King of Tonga to shed a few stone has prompted his subjects to follow his lead.

BBC World Service's Health Matters programme reports how His Highness King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV took on a drastic diet and exercise regime when obesity stopped him from walking up steps, or even from sleeping properly.

The measures proved personally successful as the royal pounds dropped off, but more importantly his example galvanised the kingdom into action.

I feel better of course, I can walk and I can climb steps better.

King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV
People living in the Pacific Islands are prone to weight gain, particularly in recent years as they increasingly adopted Western eating practices.

The king told the programme his change in lifestyle had done the trick.

He said: "I feel better of course, I can walk and I can climb steps better. I sleep better as well."

Dietician Elisiva Na'ati said the Tongan people were starting to shun unhealthy foods and take more exercise.

"They are more concerned about their diet and doing a lot of exercise," she said.

Aerobics tutoring

"They have cut down on meat, especially red meat, and they are really into fish and other seafood."

One representative of every village has travelled to the capital to be instructed in keep fit techniques, so they can return and set up aerobics sessions back home.

The Tongan example is just one found by the programme in which a community has managed to dramatically improve its health.

A quarter century, an area of Finland called North Karelia had the worst rates of coronary heart disease in the world.

Awareness

But when health researchers such as Professor Auliki Nissenen tried to make a difference, they found a great willingness by the local population to try anything to reduce the death toll.

He said: "Our strength was really the general awareness that people died far too early in that area, so they listened to the experts."

Now the situation is much better.

"Coronary heart disease, which was and still is the main killer, in 25 years it has been reduced by 25% in North Karelia," said Prof Nissenen.

This story is featured in the radio programme Health Matters on the BBC World Service.

Click here for listening times

See also:

23 Sep 02 | Health
28 Jul 02 | Health
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