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DISPATCHES              profiles by mike field

Vallop Thaineua has made improved fitness and safe food national priorities in Thailand.

They came to be counted—46,000 of them—and to raise a sweat on their country’s behalf. On November 23, 2002, they assembled in Bangkok’s grand concourse, the Sanam Luang, not far from the Royal Palace. The prime minister was there, as were members of his cabinet and Thai citizens from all walks of life. For 61 minutes, the largest aerobics class ever assembled on earth stretched, bounced, and slid right into the pages of the Guinness Book of World Records.

In Thailand, the preeminent public health threats have changed from malnourishment and infectious diseases to heart disease and other chronic illnesses. The giant aerobics class was the government’s way of demonstrating its intention not to treat these new challenges lightly, says Vallop Thaineua, MD, MPH ’76, permanent secretary to the country’s Ministry of Public Health.

In 2002, Thaineua became the highest ranking, non-political appointee in Thailand’s health ministry. One of his first priorities was to get the people of Thailand up and moving. “By the end of 2003 about half the population will be participating in exercise,” he says. “Now, in almost every village people are doing exercises. The young are running, the older people are doing aerobics.”

More recently, Thaineua has helped turn his country’s attention to food safety. “Thailand is known worldwide for its tasty food, and we are determined that the hygiene of our food should be world class,” says Thaineua. For the past two years, he has been promoting the “Clean Food, Good Taste” project, aimed at improving hygiene in every phase of food production.