In a bid to tackle increasing obesity and to reduce the high number of smokers, Chile's government launched a health program on Tuesday (22 November) to increase awareness of the dangers of a poor diet, an inactive lifestyle and smoking. Health minister Michelle Bachelet explained that 23% of women aged 25 to 64 are obese, as are 6% of men in the same age category. She added that 35% of the nation's women and 47% of its men smoke.

The program aims to prevent an explosion of diet-related diseases in the wake of the country's growing romance with fast food franchises from the developed world. The McDonald's chain, which has a 40% market share of the nation's fastfood industry, recently announced a US$75m investment to increase its outlets from 45 to 120. From a population of 15 million, more than four million Chileans visit a McDonald's restaurant monthly.

The government organization Vida Chile will lead the health campaign. By 2001, it expects to have 1,500 educational centers conducting health awareness activities directed at school children, expectant mothers, women who do no exercise and the lower socio-economic bracket.

Improved diet will be the centerpiece of the government's effort, encouraging an increased consumption of vegetables, cereals, fruit and fish while reducing consumption of saturated fats.

The anti-smoking program will target youths and young women, aiming to reduce smoking by those groups by 7% and 5% respectively, and to enforce a total prohibition of smoking in health service locations by 2002.

By Steve Anderson