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"The biggest innovation was massive community-based intervention.We tried to change entire communities, "says Puska.

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Villages held "quit and win"competitions for smokers, where those who didn't spark up for a month won prizes.Only Canada, though New Zealand may be a contender, can claim to have done as much to get people off their sofas and exercising. "Finland's success story is all the more impressive for where it has pulled itself up from.Tuomo and Leo are ready for the off and cast an eye down the gentle slope and across the rest of the course. "In the 1970s, we held the world record for heart disease, "says Pekka Puska, director of the National Institute of Public Health in Helsinki.It wasn't education they needed, it was motivation. "Local competitions were combined with sweeping nationwide changes in legislation.All forms of tobacco advertising were banned outright.Farmers were all but forced to produce low-fat milk or grow a new variety of oilseed rape bred just for the region that would make domestic vegetable oil widely available for the first time.

Previously, farmers had been paid for meat and dairy on the basis of the product's fat content.

In 1972, more than half the middle-aged men of North Karelia smoked.

Now around 30%do and the country boasts one of the lowest smoking rates in the world, despite having not yet fully imposed its stringent anti-smoking laws.

The changes recognised the flaw and linked payment instead to how much protein the produce contained. Finland was a dairy-rich country and marginalising dairy farmers was viewed with disdain by many. When officials said the population must start eating fruit, protests poured in that fruit would have to be imported.

To placate the farmers, the scheme was revised to encourage the growing of berries that thrive in a Baltic climate.

In the distance, a group of six or more figures is struggling up a lengthy incline but they eventually reach the top before plodding around as one and skiing back down like a human rollercoaster. It keeps me in shape so I can do the things I want to do, "says Tuomo, adding there is no point coming to the park to do less than 10km. The dubious honour was the inevitable consequence of a Finnish culture that embraced just about every risk factor for heart disease there is.