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NUKU‘ALOFA, Tonga (BBC World Service, Dec. 23) - The decision of the King of Tonga to shed a few pounds has prompted his subjects to follow his lead.

His Majesty 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 pounds dropped off, but more importantly his example galvanized the kingdom into action

People living in the Pacific Islands are prone to weight gain, particularly in recent years as they increasingly adopted Western eating practices.

King Taufa‘ahau Tupou IV told the program his change in lifestyle had done the trick.

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

Local Dietician Elisiva Na‘ati says 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.

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

One representative of every village has traveled 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 program 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.

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.

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

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."

December 24, 2002

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