Obesity Goes Global

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GUANG NIU/REUTERS

An overweight Chinese boy checks his new cartoon cards in Beijing , China.

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Hannah McGoey is an example of the positive things that can happen when schools, health professionals, parents and children work together. Encouragingly, changing a family's lifestyle in healthy ways does not appear to be all that difficult. "It was a bit of this, a bit of that, more exercise, slightly smaller portions, slightly different foods," Hannah's mother recalls. And this, say health officials, is a message that badly needs to get out. Parental involvement is critical since so much of modern life — streets without sidewalks, housing developments without parks, schools without exercise programs — conspires with TV, computer games, soft-drink machines and fast-food outlets to make it hard for children on their own to avoid gaining weight.

That adults are finally becoming aware of the problem and are willing to do something about it, says Dr. Philip James, chairman of the London-based International Obesity TaskForce, is extremely positive. But unless they do so in much greater numbers, the steady increase in life expectancy that has marked the 20th century may reverse itself in the 21st, and far too many members of the next generation could end up dying before their parents.

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