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Somerville, A Town Committed to Tackle Obesity Among Kids

Children in Somerville town in Massachusetts are losing in a way that's making other communities in the US take notice.

The kids of Somerville, a town of 80,000 outside Boston, have been taking part in a nutrition programme aimed at helping them learn healthy eating habits that stay with them throughout their lives. As a result the Somerville children on average weigh less than those in nearby towns, and as they learn to eat better, they improve their chances of maintaining a normal weight into adulthood.

It hasn't come without effort, but once the entire town decided to wage war on the cushions of fat developing on their children, the people of Somerville resolved to take on the task. While other towns across the US have started group weight-loss programmes, this is an experiment like no other because it's largely targeted at changing habits learned in childhood.

The project is called "Shape Up", and it began in 2003 under the direction of nutritionist Christina Economos of Tufts University. It encompasses everything from encouraging people to walk instead of drive to persuading restaurants to serve smaller portions.

Americans are becoming more and more aware of the growing number of overweight children and teenagers in the US. About a third or 25 million US children and teenagers weigh over the healthy weight for their age or just under it, according to government statistics.

Among adults, about two-thirds are overweight or simply obese, which increases their risk for illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease.

It was clear to Economos, mother of two children, that there was no point in forcing youngsters to go on a diet. Instead she set out to take small steps to change lifestyle in the town.

She looked at other societal developments that have had an impact on health - the anti-smoking movement in the US was an example - in the hope that these could be transferre
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