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A New Way to Fight Childhood Obesity
by Michele Cheplic

Perhaps the American government could learn a lesson from South Korea... on how to curtail childhood obesity.

In a plan that has shocked some families, South Korea's health ministry officials recently announced that the government is planning to help parents of obese children pay for health club memberships and other activities that can help kids lose weight.

The announcement comes on the heels of a new report, which reveals that the rate of childhood obesity in South Korea has tripled over the past three years due to a changing diet of fatty foods and a more sedentary lifestyle.

According to South Korean officials, the plan will target elementary school students whose body mass index puts them in the "obese" range. Children who are determined to be medically obese will receive up to 40,000 won ($33.58) a month to help them tackle their weight problem.

The government is safeguarding the way the money is spent by providing each child with electronic vouchers that can only be used in designated places such as gyms, health clubs, sporting facilities and other offices that provide information on nutrition and healthy living.

Health officials are touting the new plan as one of the most cost effective in recent history. According to South Korea's health minister, the costs to the government and the economy related to childhood obesity were 2 trillion won in 2006--a far cry from the 2 million won the voucher program costs.

Obviously, this program clearly illustrates that the United States isn't the only country battling a childhood obesity problem. With any luck the new program to pay parents to get their kids moving will spark some needed change in Korea. The one flaw I see in this plan is that studies show that in most cases children who are obese have parents who are obese. In which case it's a family problem and not just an issue with a particular individual. Is the South Korean government hoping the money it spends to change the child will help the entire household?

I guess we'll find out the answer to that question a few years down the road when the government evaluates its new program.