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Tubby Swiss urged to slim down

American-style fast food is one of the reasons the Swiss are getting bigger

(Keystone)

Overweight and unfit - that's the verdict of the health authorities on at least one third of Swiss population.

To encourage them to shed some weight, a new project called Suisse Balance, has been launched focusing on healthy eating and exercise, particularly among children.

According to the health authorities, 42 per cent of men and 28 per cent of women in Switzerland are overweight.

The main reasons are thought to be too little exercise and an unhealthy diet including too much fat and not enough fruit and vegetables.

Overweight children

Marcus Gerber, Suisse Balance project leader, says a tendency towards American-style fast food is also having an effect, especially on children and young people.

"For us it is alarming how many children are now overweight - a third - and we'll try to bring them back to a healthy weight," he told swissinfo.

Gerber said the project was not just aimed at improving the health of the nation. He also hopes that by encouraging healthier lifestyles, the costs of treating eating-related illnesses - some SFr1.6 billion per year - might also be reduced.

Lifestyle changes

Combating the problem of obesity, says Gerber, is relatively easy and need not involve huge lifestyle changes.

"You must move enough, at least 20 minutes to half an hour of normal movement per day, for instance, walking to the bus or going by bicycle to work. And you must eat a variety of food, not always too fatty."

But this doesn't mean that the Swiss should give up their well-known penchant for sweet things.

"We don't forbid chocolate, for instance, but we also say take an apple or something else."

Raising awareness

According to Suisse Balance, the campaign - which will cost an estimated SFr3 million over the next three years - is to take place in four stages.

The first phase involves raising awareness of the problem among the population. Suisse Balance then intends to publicise its message though communities, before targeting children and young people and finally moving on to the workplace.

Gerber explained that the campaign's overall aim was to fight the predicted increase in obesity in Switzerland and stabilise the present situation.

Even better, says Gerber, would be a reduction in overweight people from a third to a quarter of the population.

Results

He hopes the first results will be visible by 2005, well before the campaign's target date of 2010.

But Gerber says the good news is that Switzerland is not any more overweight than any of its neighbours.

"Switzerland is within the normal range in Europe, so it's not a particular problem to Switzerland. It's more a problem of western society."

swissinfo, Isobel Johnson and Morven McLean

Key facts

42% of men and 28% of women in Switzerland are overweight.
A third of children are too fat.
SFr1.6 billion is spent per year on eating-related illnesses
Every year 1.4 million people are taken ill and 2,000 die because of unhealthy living.

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